On Veterans Day, we’re putting the spotlight on Dale Schulz — a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, a proud UW–Madison School of Education alumnus (BS in elementary education), and an award-winning and now retired teacher.
Schulz spent three years serving with the Marines from 1974 to 1977, rising to the rank of sergeant. From there, he enrolled at UW–Madison and used the GI Bill and state veteran’s benefits to pay for his education and become the first in his family to earn a college degree in 1981.
Schulz went on to teach in the Oregon School District just south of Madison, spending 34 years teaching fourth grade at Brooklyn Elementary School, retiring in 2015. Remarkably, Brooklyn Elementary is the same school Schulz attended as a child.
Over the years, Schulz received several awards for his teaching, including the 2015 Lois Gadd Nemec Elementary Education Alumni Award from the UW–Madison School of Education. Additional honors include: in 2006 a WISC-TV/Ch. 3 Topnotch Teacher recognition; a 2010 Oregon School District Make a Difference Award; the 2014 UW-Platteville Influential Educator Award; a 2014 WMTV-Ch. 15 Crystal Apple award; a 2015 Red Cross Hero of a Lifetime Award; and a 2020 Veterans and Community Service Award.
“Each of these honors is a byproduct of the values and core beliefs I learned as a Marine and as a UW student,” says Schulz. “I believe the presence of veterans enriches the UW student body, and that the UW enriches each veteran’s life. That is certainly true for me.”
Schulz spoke with Todd Finkelmeyer from the School of Education’s Office of Communications and Advancement to talk about his experiences. Following is an edited transcript:
Where did you grow up and how did you join the Marines? I grew up just south of Madison in the communities of Evansville and Brooklyn. As a high school freshman, the conflict in Vietnam was a big deal. By 1973, we were no longer sending troops to Vietnam and the draft ended. I graduated from Evansville High School in 1974. I knew some people from the community who had gone into the Marines, and so a buddy and I enlisted. We went to basic training in San Diego, and I was a pretty small guy. I only weighed 119 pounds. And then when I came home from bootcamp, 12 weeks later, I weighed 169.
I was very fortunate that the conflict in Vietnam was kind of winding down, so I served at a couple of different duty stations along the west coast in California. Eventually, I was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro, which was just south of Los Angeles.
By the end of my three-year enlistment I had achieved the rank of sergeant. I was at Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro, when the fall of Saigon took place in April 1975. I heard a lot of stories from a lot of people who served in Vietnam and I was fortunate I didn’t have to serve over there. It was just total chaos at the very end.
How did your time in the Marines shape you as a young man? When you serve your country, it really affects the rest of your life. Personally, it focused my core values of who I wanted to be. That changed dramatically. During my time in the Marines, core values like honor and duty and courage and sacrifice — those became kind of embedded in my heart and in my soul. It kind of changed everything about the way I appreciated my life moving forward. That guided who I became moving forward.
After you got out of the Marines in 1977, how did you end up at UW–Madison studying to become a teacher? I got out of the Marines in September of 1977 and UW was my dream school. I just missed being able to enroll in the fall semester at UW. So I started at MATC, knowing that my classes would transfer and then I enrolled at UW in the spring (1978) semester. The GI Bill took care of everything. It was incredible and through my service made my dream of going to college come true.
Being a 21-year-old freshman was a little different but I think I had an appreciation every day for things that a typical 18-year-old freshman didn’t have. I knew what I sacrificed to make this happen.
Initially, I had thoughts of maybe going into business or accounting because I liked math. But then I just started thinking more and more about how I liked working with kids and really liked my school experience. And over time I decided that elementary education would be the best route.
How did you end up teaching back where you grew up? Yeah, it’s pretty amazing that I went on and taught fourth grade for 34 years where I grew up. When I had to do my student teaching work, I interviewed with my former fifth grade teacher, Betty Mason. Betty Mason said she remembered me and would love for me to student teach with her. After that semester, a job opened up and I never left.
Is there anything, in particular, that stands out during your teaching career? It was all such a great experience. I lived the life of feeling like I never had to work a day in my life. I was so proud to be a member of that school for such a long time. I built so many connections with so many students and so many families. You know, when you’re in education, you don’t really know what kind of difference you are making at any given moment. But when you’re lucky enough to stay in it for a while, you run into a former student or get an email from one. And that student is now 35 years old and they tell you how you made a difference in their life. They say you changed their life. It’s hard to even know how to respond — but it’s an incredible feeling.
You told me you also did some work with the Evansville Schools, too? About 10 years after I started teaching in Brooklyn, I started coaching the high school kids in Evansville, where I live. Just simply because I live right near the school. I became the strength and conditioning coach for Evansville High School. And I’m still working in that capacity. I also still do work in Brooklyn since retiring. I teach a first aid class, called Rescue Kids, to students in fourth through sixth grade, with the assistance of the Brooklyn Fire and EMS.
As far as other thing that I’ve been up to, the last two years I’ve been fortunate to be the guest speaker at the Memorial Day service. In 2021 I was the guest speaker at Brooklyn’s Memorial Day Service. And then last year, I was the guest speaker at Evansville, for their service. The most humbling thing you can ever do as a veteran is speak in front of other veterans.
How did your time at UW–Madison shape you as an educator? I have a deep appreciation of all of the class opportunities that were available for me to learn, you know, the craft of being a teacher, whether it’s the methods classes that you take your first couple semesters, all the way to the student teaching opportunity where you’re in a classroom for an entire semester. I just loved going to class and learning — even the general elective classes. I also really appreciated the support from the professors and the graduate students. I never had a feeling of failure. I never had a feeling that I was sinking, you know, to where I wasn’t going to come out with some type of a positive outcome with every course that I’ve taken. And it isn’t because I’m a brainiac. There was just a great network of support.
When I graduated, I was very proud. It wasn’t easy but I did it. One of the things I’m most proud of in my life is being a UW graduate. It has such a reputation worldwide, and I get to be lucky enough to be part of that.
What does Veterans Day mean to you? I used to speak with my class and other classrooms about this topic. I would bring my uniform and hang it on the wall so the kids could see it. The most important concept that I tried to share with my kids was the word “sacrifice.” I share with the kids that unless you are in a family where someone is serving or has served, you really don’t understand what sacrifices happen. And then I would always ask my kids how many of you have a mom or a dad or a brother or sister who serve, and every year I would always get some hands up. And then I would ask the kid, “What are you sacrificing when mom or dad are serving in the military?” They’d talk about parents missing birthdays or not being able to be tucked in at night.
To me, Veterans Day has never been about thanking me as a veteran. It’s more about building awareness and helping people appreciate the sacrifice that veterans — and especially their families — are making. And that sacrifice happens every single day, not just on Veterans Day.