It's rare in life to really know who the businessman is behind the dark suit and snappy tie. We hear their name and read about them when news about their business surfaces. But most don't interact with them. And when we hear words like "president" and "CEO," we think "iron fist" before we think "soft heart" or "generous soul." We know these people's titles, we know what they are. But for the most part, none of us really know who they are.
We hear the name Alfred Schwan and we think about ice cream, frozen food, and even those yellow trucks - we think about a proud family that built a multibillion-dollar, international business. We think about Schwan's. So when we learn about the death of one the company's leaders, Alfred Schwan, nothing extra comes to mind unless you really knew him.
But Alfred Schwan, although synonymous with the company because of his last name, was about more than board rooms and bottom lines, those close to him say. He helped build a legacy with the family business, but personal gain - a given because of his business acumen - was not his agenda.
"His legacy was doing the Lord's work," said longtime friend Dr. LeRoy Affolter. "The Schwan family was so dedicated to the church. Everything he was able to do with the business, he did not want any of that for himself. Alfred emulated what the whole Schwan family was really about. They were doing the Lord's work and I think he carried that through in his business; whatever he was doing was going to be right and proper."
Affolter said Schwan, the last of Paul and Alma's three boys, would fly in to Marshall for Lenten services at Christ Lutheran Church in Marshall. "You could always count on him being there," Affolter said.
When Christ Lutheran remodeled in the 1990s, the Schwan family was there to help.
"They did so much for the congregation," Affolter said. "They put in new pew pads; much of our new addition as we have it, they provided the foundation of it. It was those funds that we were able to use as seed, so to speak, to do the new addition to our church. They were very strong believers in their gifts to the Lord, without question. They were very humble and it was something that they worked for. That was Alfred all the way through."
Marshall longtime resident Larry Henle was close to the Schwan family since childhood and said Alfred sincerely appreciated the people who worked for him to the point where personal bonds were formed. And that appreciation, he said, worked both ways.
"They used to say he knew 1,500 people on a first-name basis down in Salina (Kan.),"?Henle said. "He used to go out on the production floor, greet people by their first name and ask them how their family was doing. And they loved him for it."
It's unfortunate that we don't hear about a person's personal side until they're gone, that many times not until they're laid to rest do we learn about the good in them - how much they gave of themselves, their loves in life. It's much too easy to forget, or even realize, that public figures - especially the ones like Alfred Schwan who have days named after them by two cities in two separate states - even have a personal side.
Sadly, by the time we have a chance to appreciate who they are - not just know what they are - they're not here anymore.