Zenith of success - Michael Schubert rose from dire beginnings to become respected businessman
Stretching along Railroad Avenue in downtown Russellville is a large storefront, crowned with a section of red bricks that boldly displays the name “Schubert.” This structure, which is well over a century old, serves as a memorial of sorts to an enterprising young man who contributed greatly to the development of a church and the early growth of the surrounding community.
Michael Schubert was born near Taos in 1859. He experienced hardship in his early years when his father, John, died during the early part of the Civil War. The young private, a member of the Cole County Home Guards, had been on guard duty by a railroad bridge in Osage City when he was struck by a train on August 7, 1861.
Several years later, his mother died from smallpox, leaving young Michael and his sister, Kate, orphaned. Throughout the next several years, he buckled down and worked hard to earn an education. In the book The Heritage of Russellville in Cole County, Reba Koester explained that the formal education Schubert received “amounted to only a few years in the public school and a few months in a private German school.”
“At the age of 24, he was associated in the mercantile business at Decatur,” explained the book written for the sesquicentennial celebration of Russellville in 1988. Decatur was once a thriving community with a mill, hotel and other businesses located south of Russellville along the South Moreau Creek.
Frederick “Fritz” Steffens, a German immigrant and businessman in Decatur, took the young Schubert under his wing and taught him how to operate a successful business. Schubert also garnered from Fritz an interest in the funeral profession. After spending four years in Decatur, he moved to Barnett and purchased a stock of goods so that he could operate his own store.
Schubert fell in love and, in 1889, married the former Mary Schneider from his hometown of Taos. Sadly, Mary was only twenty-seven years old when she died in 1893, and was laid to rest in Big Rock Cemetery in Barnett. Still reeling from the loss of his beloved, Schubert chose to build his business in the nearby community of Russellville, which was experiencing a period of unprecedented growth because of the railroad.
The next several years were a whirlwind of activity for the entrepreneur. In 1895, he became one of the organizers of the Russellville Exchange Bank, the first financial institution of the community. For two years, he worked as a cashier at the bank but then chose to focus on other possibilities. Schubert was also present during the formation of Trinity Lutheran Church in Russellville in the fall of 1995. A booklet printed in 1995, celebrating the church’s one-hundredth anniversary noted, “John Buchta and Michael Schubert were elected as first deacons.” Additionally, Schubert was listed among the first contributors for the new church.
One of his earliest business endeavors was establishing the Schubert Funeral Service in 1896. Gus Steffens, the son of the Decatur businessman who had taken Schubert under his wing, opened his own funeral home in Russellville several years later.
Between his spiritual and business engagements, Schubert again found love and married the former Emma Kautsch on May 10, 1897. She was of great support when he began to actively expand his businesses.
In 1897, he realized his mercantile building was no longer large enough to accommodate his booming business and added to the brick-faced structure to provide additional space for inventory. For several years, he was a business associate of Frank Weiler, and operated under the name Schubert and Weiler Mercantile Company.
“On June 22, 1911, Frank Weiler sold his one-fourth interest in the firm…,” explained Russellville’s sesquicentennial book. “The Schubert Mercantile was lighted by electricity the second week of October 1915. The store now had the appearance of a metropolitan store, having all the modern conveniences such as electric lights, toilets, heat, water, etc.”
The father of several children, Schubert’s second son, Hugo, entered the mercantile business with his father in 1923. Hugo also continued his father’s funeral business, and completed embalming school in 1924 to assume management of Schubert Funeral Home. Both the Steffens and Schubert funeral businesses were later purchased by James Scrivner and Jewell Stevinson, of Stover.
Michael Schubert, a great visionary of the Russellville community, lived to see Trinity Lutheran Church expand from its small lot on Marion Street to its new brick church, parsonage and small white schoolhouse located on the southside of State Highway C. Following his death on February 17, 1937, the body of the seventy-seven-year-old businessman was laid to rest in the cemetery of Trinity Lutheran Church outside Russellville, which he had helped establish years earlier. Shortly after his death, his widow donated the property upon which the Trinity Lutheran Parish Hall was erected.
Schubert’s son, Hugo, continued to operate the mercantile business until selling it just days before his death in 1959. The business was later purchased by Arthur Jungmeyer, whose son, Don, utilized the building to operate a grocery store that served the community for many years.
Michael Schubert's contributions to the growth of Russellville cannot easily be described or measured, but a portion of his legacy still remains in his former business building downtown, Trinity Lutheran Church and his home on the southeast corner of Smith and Minnie Streets.
It is the legacy of a young man raised in dire circumstances, who sought to immerse himself in the education provided through perseverance and hard work, thus building a loving family and church, while rising to the zenith of success in the community he chose as home.
Jeremy P. Ämick is writing a series of articles highlighting the history of the Russellville area in honor of Missouri’s bicentennial.
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Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.