Friday, June 22, 2018
News Roundup

Donald Schilke made friends everywhere

ST. PETERSBURG — Donald Schilke built his life on relationships and routine.

Since moving south in 1999, you could find him several afternoons a week on Derby Lane's second floor, programs and writing materials spread out before him as he monitored the simulcast screens.

People knew him there, as with everywhere else Mr. Schilke went. He was the consummate regular guy. If people found it easy to know him, it was because Mr. Schilke worked hard at that.

He hobnobbed with regulars at the track, a part of his ritual just as important as the races or jai alai games he was watching. Michael Dean, who works in finance for a technology company, saw him there often.

As for winning and losing, Dean said, "If he came out close to even, he was happy."

Mr. Schilke died April 6. He was 83 and had lung cancer and heart trouble.

He had friends in far-flung countries, and made new ones by swapping stories. It's how he built relationships, said daughter JoEllen Schilke.

"You give them a little story, and that sort of opened the doorway for them to give a little story back," said JoEllen Schilke, the former owner of the Globe Coffee Lounge and current outreach coordinator for the radio station WMNF. "And he would listen to it."

For more than 20 years, he managed Teddy's Restaurant Bar and Cocktail Lounge in Elmont, N.Y., not far from his Brooklyn birthplace. He remembered names and faces and jokes from Monty Python and other British comedies. Mr. Schilke continued to work at Teddy's years after he needed to work at all.

Mr. Schilke grew up in Queens and Mount Vernon. After serving with the Air Force during the Korean War, he married Claire Scharnett in 1958.

He ran a Madison Avenue insurance agency for 20 years, then worked in finance for an office supply company before joining Teddy's. In retirement he read spy novels and perused travel articles, clipping stories about restaurants he might want to visit. A couple of times a year he took Claire to Europe, bringing the stories along to show restaurant owners just in case they hadn't seen it.

"People were, like, 'Wow, that's so nice of you,'" his daughter said. "He made friends like that everywhere."

Aging came with losses. Claire Schilke died in 2000; his son, Robert Schilke, died in November, 11 years later to the date. By then, Mr. Schilke had already been diagnosed with lung cancer and had a heart defibrillator.

His daughter said she learned patience from her father, the ability to relate to different people, and the art of "letting everything sort of play out before I react."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

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