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RF marathon dedicated to the man who couldn't do Boston's run

Local runners show bravado in the face of unspring-like weather before taking the first strides for the April 13 River Falls Marathon. From left: Ed Vlack, Steve Schroeder, Sandy Gerwien, Jenny Marrietta, Mike Kahlow, Danny Cuddihy, Lisa Thompson and (thumbs' up) Bryant Ekstrom. Ekstrom is a River Falls patrol officer who just finished his night shift before running and finishing the April 13 marathon. <i>Submitted photos</i>1 / 2
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The 70-year-old town of Kinnickinnic man could run his fifth straight Boston Marathon or chair the River Falls School District advisory committee that recommends the next superintendent.

Schroeder, an actuary, is a serious lifelong runner. He started 37 years ago and has done marathons for 30 years, running in more than 140.

However, he's also serious about public education.

Before moving to River Falls, he was school board president for nine years in a small district near Stevens Point where his two daughters went.

That was long ago, but Schroeder's devotion to education hasn't dimmed.

As a member of River Falls Rotary, he does one-on-one reading with Westside Elementary School students.

Schroeder is also enrolled in the school district's STEP program, where seniors volunteering 69 hours a year in local schools earn up to $500 in property tax relief.

As a STEP volunteer, Schroeder does five hours every Tuesday of math remedial and enhancement with 3rd, 4th and 5th graders at Westside.

"It's fulfilling but I come home exhausted," he said.

Schroeder is also a fan of retiring superintendent Tom Westerhaus.

"I'm absolutely sick about losing Tom," Schroeder says. "He's a great one, and we need to find someone of similar ability to replace him."

Last September Schroeder's times qualified him for the 117th Boston Marathon. Soon after submitting his application, plus a $150 check, he was admitted to run the big April 15 marathon in Boston.

Before that, it was February, and school board president Stacy Johnson Myers asked Schroeder to head the superintendent advisory committee. Schroeder had to make a choice between his "two big passions."

He conceded he had "to sleep on it" before choosing to pass up the famous marathon and accept the big educational role.

The 16-member advisory committee Schroeder chairs has proceeded to compile a list of three finalists to be the next superintendent. Key interviews to settle on the finalists were held Monday, April 15.

Meanwhile, the finish to the April 15 Boston Marathon, as everyone knows, was jarred by two bombings that caused three deaths, more than 280 injuries, and the subsequent manhunt, killing of one suspect and dramatic capture of the other.

Schroeder said he couldn't be happier with his decision to stay and do good for his community while avoiding the carnage from this year's Boston Marathon.

"I feel blessed at how things turned out," he said. "I've been told and agree that it was fate that kept me away. But I do plan to go back and run the Boston Marathon next year."

Schroeder's running passion is shared by others in River Falls. An informal group of like-minded runners has hit the road together for a decade.

They run three times a week, year round (in winter they wear head lamps in the dark) -- 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, starting at the high school east parking lot, for a 4.2 mile citywide loop, mostly through the university campus; and at 7 a.m. Saturday in the Pizza Hut parking lot for a run of 8.8 or 16 miles, almost all of it on country roads.

Schroeder says anywhere from two to 15 show up on any given run.

"We're always looking for new runners," he said. "It's great camaraderie, so come and join us. It doesn't matter if you're a speed demon or slow. We have those who mostly like to just walk."

Because Schroeder made the hard choice to pass up this year's Boston Marathon, his running comrades -- who admire him with the same zeal that he admires Tom Westerhaus -- took matters into their own legs.

As a tribute to Schroeder, they set up what fellow runner Diane Odeen called "the inaugural River Falls Marathon."

Said Odeen: "The run was to show camaraderie and appreciation for Steve sacrificing something he loves to do in order to serve the River Falls community, even though his children didn't go to school here. We think the world of Steve."

After what happened, Odeen added: "We were all very grateful that Steve didn't go to Boston. He worked hard to qualify."

Odeen, recently voted on to the City Council, says she's been running with the loose-knit group since 2006.

"Members come and go, but Steve is the one who holds it together." she said.

For more coverage on the first River Falls Marathon and the running admirers of Steve Schroeder, please see the April 25 print edition of the River Falls Journal.