Growing up on a dairy farm just outside of Linwood, Murray Schlueter walked to school every day. It was the early 1950s – long before parents had any qualms about their kids walking on their own – and for Schlueter it was quicker to cut across the fields than to go along the road. One spring morning he happened to see a pair of bluebirds feeding their babies in an old apple tree, and a day or two later, he saw another pair of the bright birds also feeding their young. That chance encounter sparked an interest in bluebirds and a passion for the environment, a passion that continues to this day and is a major reason why Schlueter has been named as Wellesley Citizen of the Year by the Board and Trade.
“I’m flattered and honoured,” said Schlueter of the award while sitting on the couch in his Wellesley home earlier this week. “It was an absolute surprise when I got the call two weeks ago. I had no idea.”
The award was first handed out back in 1974, and is presented annually to a Wellesley resident in recognition of outstanding achievements and unselfish contributions to their fellow citizens, and for nearly 50 years the Wellesley and District Board of Trade has provided a forum for community minded individuals and businesses to combine ideas and talents to enhance the quality of life in the village.
Schlueter, 73, takes over from last year’s recipient, Ron Futher.
The organization opens the nomination period for two weeks and solicits nominations from the community at large – though the exact number is kept under wraps, along with the names of the other nominees and the people who nominated them.
According to the president of the Wellesley Board of Trade, this year’s choice was a difficult one – as it is almost every year.
“Their years of service, their accomplishments, and what the nominators say are all key to the award,” said Jeff Quint.
“Murray was the most deserving this year. It’s like a people’s choice award: it’s for the community and chosen by the community.”
Schlueter and his wife Beth have called the Village of Wellesley home since 1972. Schlueter was the first employee at Tughan Express, which handled the air freight moving to and from Waterloo Region, Fergus, Elora, Stratford and Guelph, and he worked there for 15 years before moving on to Erb Transport, where he worked until 2002.
He has taken a deep interest in the wellbeing of Wellesley since moving back to the community, and has been actively involved in all aspects of the village, including the Wellesley and District Horticultural Society; the Wellesley Board of Trade for 22 years, serving as president in 1984 and 1985; he worked with his wife as coordinator of the Wellesley Home and Garden Show from 2007-2010; he remains an active member of the Wellesley-North Easthope Fall Fair, where he served as president and is now first vice-chair; he is a member of the board of directors for the Huron-Perth Woodlot Association, as well as the Stratford field naturalists, and a former member of the Wellesley Community Centre board.
In 2009, Schlueter’s life-long dedication to returning the bluebird from the brink of extinction was recognized when he was the recipient of a Grand River Conservation Authority Watershed Award.
He still maintains 50 bluebird boxes throughout the region and estimates that he helped 42 baby birds take flight last year.
“Why would a person get involved in everything I have? It just feels good if you can make a contribution, and be a part of the community,” he said.
His passion for stewardship and the environment likely goes back to his days as a farm boy, where his father Pembrooke took great care of their 14-acre woodlot.
“That’s what I miss about the farm the most – the woodlot. And I’m outdoorsy; I like to fish, I enjoy walking in the woods,” said Schlueter.
“The outdoors is important to me, and it’s all in here,” he added, pointing to his heart.
In the past 40 years he says he has seen many changes in the village, “a lot of growth,” and he hopes that the people moving to the community can do more than simply turn it into another bedroom community – instead, he hopes they become as involved as he and other Wellesley residents have been to continue to make it a better place to live.
Schlueter was recognized as citizen of the year at the annual Board of Trade Valentine’s Day ball Friday night and he was joined by his wife, his two daughters Krista and Karen, and his granddaughter Julia.
For more information, visit www.wellesleyboardoftrade.com.