‘Everyone who met him was better for it’ — William Delaney
News of the tragic death of recent Minneota graduate Donald “Donnie” Schuelke IV on Sunday hit classmates and community members hard.
“It felt like getting hit in the gut,” said Bill Delaney, who was Schuelke’s FFA advisor for three years. “He always put everyone ahead of himself. This is a tough loss for everyone.”
Schuelke, 18, was killed in a one-vehicle rollover around 4:30 a.m. Sunday morning west of Canby along Highway 68 in Florida Township of Yellow Medicine County.
According to a report, Schuelke was coming home from a rodeo in Clear Lake, SD which was also attended by several other Minneota students. For reasons not verified at this time, Schuelke decided to make the trip back home in the early morning hours.
According to Minnesota State Patrol report, the 1995 Ford Explorer Schuelke was driving went off the roadway to the north and entered the ditch before rolling over. Although the airbag deployed in the Explorer, Schuelke was not wearing a seatbelt and was ejected from the vehicle and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Minneota Public School administrators agreed to bring the Southwest/West Central Crisis Service Team into the high school from 6-8:30 p.m. Sunday night to help grieving students and parents.
“There were about four or five counselors or social workers on hand,” said Superintendent Dan Deitte. “We had about 60 or 70 students and adults come into the school to talk with them. We wanted to do whatever we could to provide help to anyone in the community.”
Schuelke lived with his parents, Donald III and Julie, as well as his triplet younger brothers Logan, Josh and Carter on a farm two miles south of Minneota.
One thing that always impressed me a lot about Donnie was how much he cared for his brothers,” said Keven Larson, Schuelke’s high school baseball coach. “Two of his brothers played baseball and one did not, but the one that didn’t was on the robotics team.
“Donnie would bring all three of them with him to open gym and then help the two brothers with baseball and then go down in the shop and help the other brother with robotics. He would just keep going back and forth to help each of them. I was so impressed with that.”
Donnie Schuelke was the driver and lead programmer on the robotics team.
“He was a computer guru,” said Larson. “He would come to my sixth grade class and teach my kids about computers.”
Nearly everyone who knew Schuelke remember a polite, compassionate and intelligent young man who always had a smile on his face.
“He liked to joke a lot,” said Deitte. “This was a kid who always smiled. He never disrespected anyone and treated everyone the same.”
“He would always greet me every morning at school with a big smile on his face,” said Delaney.
“He was always so happy,” said Justin Buysse, who has been a close friend since first grade. “He lived life to the fullest.”
“Donnie was a very bright kid. Everything came so natural to him. He helped us all with our homework. If we had a tough math problem, it might have taken us 15 minutes to figure it out. It took Donnie only about 30 seconds,” Buysse added
Schuelke was involved in numerous activities, including 4-H, FFA, Knowledge Bowl, robotics and baseball. He was planning to attend the University of Minnesota-Duluth to study Biochemistry in the fall.
Many of Schuelke’s closest friends visited his family at their farm on Sunday.
“We sat around and told stories about Donnie,” said Buysse. “It was hard. We always called him and his dad ‘Little Donnie’ and ‘Big Donnie’. He’s been like a brother to me all through high school.”
Schuelke was a sentinel with the Minneota FFA program, while Buysse was president the past two years.
“If you know Donnie at all, (sentinel) was the perfect position for him. A sentinel welcomes people and maintains order. He loved to meet and greet people,” said Buysse, who was also on the dairy judging team with Schuelke the past two years and on the robotics team with him for several years.
Schuelke was also an FFA officer for three years and a member of the state FFA nominating committee that recommends state officers.
“When we were at the national FFA convention in Indianapolis and it was time to leave, there was a mob of people going out the doors,” Delaney recalled. “A woman who was an Ag teacher from northern Minnesota had her arms full of boxes and other things.”
“Donnie not only held the door open for her, he also helped carry her things out to the parking lot and put them in her car. And he had no idea who she was.”
Delaney was unaware of Schuelke’s act of kindness at the time.
“I had no idea that he had done that for her,” Delaney said. “She knew from our jackets that we were from Minneota and had asked around and got my number from some other teachers.”
“She texted me later to tell me what he had done and how much she appreciated it. That’s the type of kid he was. He would go out of his way for anyone.”
In baseball, Schuelke played on the varsity for three years as a centerfielder and pitcher.
“He was extremely coachable,” said an emotional Larson. “He was very well liked by everyone, both on and off the field.”
“He treated everyone the same way and not just one particular group. That’s why the players voted him a co-captain this year.”
Adiah Buysse, who attended prom with Schuelke this spring, recalls how he kept everything fun no matter what the circumstances were.
“Donnie was one of the most kind-hearted, caring, funniest, and smartest kids I knew,” she said. “I was on his knowledge bowl team and he almost always knew the answer or had a good guess.”
“If he had no idea, he would say something funny to our team and we would all laugh so hard we would forget to come up with an answer before the time ran out.”
And Schuelke tried to make prom as fun and memorable for everyone as he could with his light-heartedness.
“I'll never forget prom with him. He came up with our fun round idea to dress up in all camo and blaze orange,” Adiah Buysse told. “We had a broom and mop and he was going around actually sweeping up the confetti that other people threw.”
“He was cracking jokes the whole night. He could always make anyone and everyone laugh. Donnie was such a fun-loving guy and the memories that I made with him will always bring a smile to my face.”
The Minneota American Legion baseball team, which Schuelke was not a member of, held practice on the day of the accident. Larson left it up to the older players whether the team would travel to Cottonwood for a game the next night.
“It was good for the players to talk about their feelings. We have a bunch of older players on the team and they decided to play the game,” said Larson, who also coaches the Legion team. “I think Donnie would have wanted it that way, too.”
Deitte said one of Schuelke’s strengths was his diversity.
“He had a lot of loves,” Deitte said. “There wasn’t just one path for him. He was very well-rounded.”
Delaney offered a concluding statement about how people benefitted from meeting the personable Schuelke.
“Everyone who met him was better for it,” Delaney insisted. “He touched everyone in a positive way.”
And those positive memories will continue to touch them for a long time.