Some people come into our lives and leave imprints on our hearts, and we are never the same. To many in Brodhead, Charlie Scriven was such a man.
When asked about Charlie, many volunteered the following praises: he was generous, kind-hearted, intelligent, hard working, proud, reliable, faithful, honest, self-sufficient, appreciative, and humorous. He also adored children.
“The world would be a better place if there were more people like Charlie,” Dr. Gene Prudhon, Brodhead’s local optometrist said. “He was short on words, long on action. He was not one to disparage or gossip. He was honest. He didn’t play any games. What you saw was what you got.”
“Every town needs a Charlie,” Kerry Schlittler agreed. “He had a heart of gold.”
Charles H. Scriven came into the world on July 13, 1931, and passed from it on February 18, 2008. A majority of his 76 years were spent in Brodhead, though he was born in Janesville.
Bits and pieces were known of his personal life. While his mother, Ella, died when he was still a boy, he remembered attending the old Methodist church. Later, his stepmother, Jessie, attended Living Word. He thought a great deal of her. He was baptized in Janesville by the Salvation Army. Due to an injury, he had a metal plate in his head. Some felt this might be the reason he felt ill working in the hot summer sun. His father was a harsh man. Charlie was once injured in an automobile accident. He had a sister, who died about ten years ago. “Animal Planet” was one of his favorite television programs. These are just pieces of a man’s life, but who was Charlie Scriven? What made him special?
It was his heart.
From outside appearances, one might be frightened of Charlie, Kerry said. His appearance was somewhat shocking. He was not well bathed, and he didn’t shave. He liked to smoke unfiltered cigarettes. He wasn’t one you would typically invite home for a meal because his manners weren’t the best. Dr. Prudhon mentioned Charlie had an aversion to water. Because of his work, he was usually black from grease.
“I tried to get him to clean up, but he said his business was a dirty business,” Dean Peterson said.
“People needed to look past some things to find a really neat guy,” said Dr. Pawlisch of the Brodhead Veterinary Medical Center. “If they stopped to listen to find out what was on the inside, they’d find he was a very good guy. He had a big heart for helping people.”
Karen Schlittler, the wife of Pastor Kendall Schlittler, both formerly of Brodhead, told a story of Charlie’s kindness. In 1987, when their son, Ian, was eight months old, they invited Charlie for Christmas dinner. “He wasn’t known to be tidy. He came clean as a whistle, nicely pressed. He had a big roly poly stuffed teddy bear for Ian. It was the sweetest gesture.”
Ian called the bear, Charlie Bear, and kept him on his bed even into his teen years. Ian is in Iraq now. Karen gave Charlie Bear to Ian’s girlfriend, Guen Adams, so she had something of Ian’s to hold when she missed Ian. The bear means a lot to Karen too, she said.
“We had a really nice Christmas dinner. It was nice to share it with him,” Karen said.
He had a high pitched voice, and he stuttered when he talked. One needed to be patient listening to Charlie to understand what he said.
Despite his stuttering, Ernie Webnar, owner of Brodhead Farm & Home, said, “He was an intelligent man.”
“He was smarter than a lot of people gave him credit,” Kerry agreed.
Sometimes people would try to take advantage of Charlie, thinking that he wouldn’t know, but he did, Gwen Peterson said.
“People made assumptions because he had difficulty talking,” Dr. Pawlisch agreed.
“But oh, how Charlie loved to sing! When he sang, there was no stuttering. He loved western music, western movies, especially John Wayne,” remembered Gwen.
He could recite movies and sing songs for a long time, agreed Dean.
He had quite a collection of John Wayne movies, recalled Danny Newcomer of Newcomer Funeral Home in Brodhead.
Many may remember Charlie as the man who drove around town on his lawnmower. Prior to his lawnmower driving days, he had traveled around town on his bicycle. He had one with a trailer which hauled his work tools. He also had a 1928 Schwinn bike with balloon tires, in showroom condition. It was his pride and joy. He got it out to ride around on nice days or in parades.
Charlie never got a driver’s license. He once told someone, “There are enough fools on the roads without me being out there!”
“He was a pretty proud man when he got a lawnmower,” Kerry said. Jac Schlittler bought Charlie his first lawnmower, a John Deere, and Charlie paid him back in payments. He eventually went through a few John Deere lawn tractors before he was forced to give up his business and not drive anymore. He was around 70 and using a cane when he had to stop.
Charlie was a quiet man who kept mostly to himself about Charlie, but who would go out of his way to help others. He’d help anyone out, sometimes offering his home to homeless people for awhile, sharing what he had.
According to Dean, a lot of people poked fun at Charlie, but he was able to support and take care of himself.
Charlie wasn’t afraid of hard work. He was always employed. He had no interruptions in his life; he was always there no matter what. Weekends and holidays didn’t make a difference to Charlie, Kerry said. At one time, he had 35 jobs—Charlie fixed lawn mowers and snow blowers. He mowed lawns, raked leaves, shoveled snow, picked vegetables, hoed weeds, and much more. He touched many people’s lives, especially the elderly widows for whom he did yard work.
In 1979, he earned a small engine repair certificate from Blackhawk Technical College. He could take lawnmowers someone had thrown by the curb and fix them and resell them. He was a talented repair man who didn’t charge much for his services. He was proud of his repair business.
“If he banged on it long enough, he’d get it going,” Karen said.
“He took care of himself. He didn’t depend on the government. He wasn’t afraid to work,” said Ernie. About 20 years ago, Charlie would come and help unload trucks of twine and oats for Ernie at his former business locations. Charlie never complained about how heavy a load was.
“I always liked his attitude,” Dr. Pawlisch said. “He was always positive. He never complained. He was a good neighbor and a good client.”
“Business owners knew that he was a hard worker and that you could call him if you needed someone for 10 minutes or 10 days,” Kerry said. Kerry’s grandfather, Jac, who started Schlittler Construction, did some truck farming and had a winery, and often called on Charlie to be his eyes and hands for many years. He helped him bale hay. “Charlie was a handy man to have around.”
Danny remembered picking potatoes with Charlie. He also remembered that Charlie set pins at the bowling alley when it was downtown.
“Some people were scared of Charlie,” Danny said. Some were mean. “When he set balls at the bowling alley, some guys would fire the ball at him. He’d show them. He’d spit in the hole.”
Even before he had to go to the hospital, where he later died, he was offering to help others. He stayed with the Swedlund family in Juda and despite his walker, he’d offer to help.
He received Meals on Wheels, but Charlie wasn’t fond of vegetables. He loved his rare white German shepherd, Sugar, who often ate well, especially vegetables. It had been difficult for Charlie when he had to find Sugar a new home, but he would show people pictures of his beloved pet, and visit Sugar whenever he could.
“For not having much money, he sure worked hard to pay his bills,” remembered Dr. Pawlisch. “He did not like to accept charity. He was very proud.” Once he got a big bill because Sugar had needed care. He carried that around for a month before they ran into each other to discuss how it could be taken care of. He thought an awful lot of his dog, Dr. Pawlisch said.
“He didn’t take—he always worked for what he had. He didn’t drink. He was just a good guy that kept to himself,” Danny said.
Karen remembers working at the grocery store during her high school years, and Charlie coming in to buy his favorite meal: French toast frozen dinners. He’d buy boxes of them.
“He had an impact on our lives. I used to think of him with sympathy, being alone,” Ernie said. “He did the best with what he had to the best of his ability.
“He was a unique individual. We all fit into a place in life. We learn from others no matter what our level or profession is in this life.”
In James in the Bible, it says not to show favoritism to a rich man over a poor man. In Matthew, it tells us how much more valuable is a person than a bird. Each of us is fearfully and wonderfully made, here today but perhaps gone tomorrow. Each person, no matter how great or small, has a purpose in this life, and when he is gone, he leaves his imprint in the lives of others.
“Every small town needs a Charlie,” Gwen echoed her son, Kerry.
Charlie left his imprint, and Brodhead will always be better for it.
By Michelle R. Welsh
Editorial Note: Guen Adams spells her name with a u, and Gwen Peterson with a w.
Originally published in the Brodhead Independent-Register, March 19, 2008.