Queen Anne’s mourns loss of ‘Sonny’ Schulz
CHESTER — Business leader and former county commissioner Oscar A. “Sonny” Schulz, 85, died at home in Chester on Monday, Nov. 19, 2018.
Schulz was a prominent Maryland businessman, the patriarch of the Fisherman’s Inn restaurant family, a longtime regional civic leader, the proud dad of three sons and a granddad to seven.
He was owner of the very successful Fisherman’s Inn Restaurant, Fisherman’s Crab Deck, and Fisherman’s Seafood with his late wife Betty Thomas Schulz, and their three sons, Andy, Jody and Tracy. Many people around the county shared memories of Sonny, and repeatedly referred to him and his late wife Betty,
“as people who truly cared about their community.”
Schulz was good at business and at politics, generous and always looked out for those in his care — whether family members, employees or constituents — friends said. As a commissioner, he prided himself on always returning phone calls, even if it took late into the evening.
Jim Barton, who recently retired as head of the county’s zoning office, said, “I first met Sonny when he was serving as county commissioner 30 years ago. I had just been hired by the county. Over the years, he and I would have lunch together twice a week at restaurants around the county. We became very good friends. I consider it an honor to have known Sonny Schulz. He’s the kind of man you want to write about.
“Sonny is one of the most giving people I’ve ever known. I like his honesty, too. He’d always tell you what he thought about things. And if you gave him grief, he give it right back to you, full blast!”
Barton added, “I think Sonny’s one of the best known people in all of Queen Anne’s County. He was a true Kent Islander, and there’s not many of those left. I think he was a visionary, thinking about things to help the county before others did. I know he and I always had a good time. He always had a smile on his face. Of his life, I’d say, it’s been a good ride. One of the last times I saw him, I told him, ‘You never learned to whisper.’ He laughed, because when he spoke, you never had trouble hearing him.”
Former Delegate and County Commissioner Wheeler Baker said, “Sonny was the type of guy who cared deeply about the community. Even with all the success he had in business, he never let that go to his head.”
Baker added, “Sonny used to joke about his son Tracy serving as fire chief at the Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department. Sonny would say, ‘Tracy’s out there running to all these calls for fire service while he’s still on the clock at the restaurant.’ Jokingly, Sonny made reference to Tracy being the first paid professional firefighter in Queen Anne’s County, since he was getting paid at the restaurant to provide that service.”
Former manager at Queenstown Bank, Frankie Smith said, “I’ve known Sonny for more than 60 years. I have a lot of respect for him. He was very good in business.”
Smith also spoke of Schulz’s generosity, “Many people don’t know this, but Sonny paid for a complete, state-of-the-art kitchen to be put in at Chesapeake College to help students there learn culinary arts as a profession. That was done without any fanfare or credit to Sonny. He did things like that without wanting more than to know he helped the community.”
Another example of Schulz’s generosity mentioned was when the new Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department opened. The weekend it opened, the community was invited to visit, and Fisherman’s Inn provided all the food (shrimp and dumplings with all the trimmings) for free.
Asked about his generosity, Schulz responded quickly and without hesitation, saying, “The community has always given to me!”
Mary Lee Brown, manager at Fisherman’s Crab Deck for the past 27 years, said she has worked with the Schulz family for 45 years total — when she was 19, she was asked to babysit the Schulz boys — and has many fond memories.
Brown said, “Sonny would give people the impression of being gruff, but he had a heart of gold. One day when he was county commissioner, he heard some of us girls on the waitstaff at Fisherman’s talking among ourselves about a portion of the road leading into Marling Farms, where many of us lived, being bad to travel on during icy, winter months. Mind you, we weren’t talking to him about this, but the next day, the road was treated to make it safer to travel on. It must have been Sonny that had it taken care of. That’s the way he was, always trying to see that things were taken care of.”
Rebecca Mobley has been an assistant manager at Fisherman’s Inn the past nine years. She shared her personal insight into who Sonny Schulz was, saying, “He was an excellent story teller. In the years I knew him, you could count on him like clockwork to be in booth number 14 for lunch and dinner, always facing the entrance door. If he was away, he’d call in the morning and again in the evening to check on business.
“Fisherman’s Inn is a true family restaurant in every sense of the meaning: his sons being hands-on. The staff is so close-knit that they refer to each other as their ‘Fishy Family.’ I attribute this family culture to the groundwork laid by both Betty and Sonny. The restaurant is an anomaly in regards to employee tenure having staff members who have been there for decades with a few 40 years of dedicated service. It’s unheard of and speaks volumes to the way the Schulz family collectively does business.”
She also recalled, “Sonny was in a barbershop quartet in his younger days and when he was in a really good mood you could catch him singing out loud in the office.”
Oscar “Sonny” Schulz was born on Kent Island on June 25, 1933. His parents, Oscar and Maude, had two children before Sonny. A sister, Charlotta, died at the age of 4after eating a peach poisoned by an arsenic spray. Brother John was much older than Sonny. He died at age 50. Sonny’s father was an oysterman and a carpenter who struggled with his health. In World War I he’d survived a mustard gas attack, the long term effects of which were progressively debilitating. Sonny was 11 when his father died.
Schulz was always ambitious. “I’ll never forget the first day I made five dollars,” he once said. “Billy Schulz, my cousin, had a bicycle he was going to sell because he bought a car. He wanted five dollars for it. So Mother said whatever I made that day I could put toward the bicycle. I picked a hundred bushels of tomatoes. Made five dollars.”
By the time he was 12, Schulz was culling oysters
Oscar “Sonny” Schulz was one of eight local waterman who shared stories about their lives at the VFW Post 7464 in Grasonville.
“Sonny” Schulz, seated, telling stories at the VFW.