By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"He's very low-profile," says his old boss Harmon Schepps, who sold the dairy in 1985. "He'll probably get angry at me for even talking about this. He doesn't care for any publicity. He just wants to do what's the best thing for the community."
Although Schenkel has worn a variety of civic hats--formerly chairman of the D/FW Airport board, he now serves on the executive committee of the State Fair of Texas--he is perhaps best-known, among the precious few who get to see his handiwork, as a friend of law enforcement and a community bridge builder.
Schenkel learned a long time ago that the best way to try and resolve problems in this city--racial, political--was to sit some key people down at a table and quietly forge a solution.
Over the years, far away from public scrutiny, Schenkel has had a lot of people at his table. They come because he's nice: "He doesn't ever say anything bad about anybody," says Schepps. They come because he's a guy from affluent Bent Tree, but has spent his working life a mile from Fair Park. They come, most of all, because in the city's biggest battles, he has had the ears of people on both sides--from Dallas mayors like Annette Strauss and Jack Evans, a close friend, to black rabble-rousers like John Wiley Price, Yvonne Ewell, and Al Lipscomb.
But the beauty of Pete Schenkel--the power of Pete Schenkel--is that he doesn't just have people's ears. He has their hearts. And in the case of Al Lipscomb, he can call on more than two decades of serious gratitude.
Pete Schenkel's generosity toward Al Lipscomb started shortly after their first meeting, as Lipscomb recalls it. "We just started touching base," Lipscomb says. Specifically, Lipscomb and some of his fellow activists would call Schenkel to see if he could provide refreshments for community events. "We would call, and we didn't know if we would get it--some type of juice and drinks," Lipscomb says. "And my church--I don't think there's a black church [he won't help]...He will provide. For a cause."
Some 20 years later, Lovie still calls Schenkel for her church. "During vacation Bible school, he funds our drinks," Mrs. Lipscomb told me last week. "He's been a very, very, very true friend. Anything he could help you with, he would give you a hand. He's really just a loving-type person. He does things for you to make you feel good."
Like buying you a pickup truck.
"Mr. Schenkel helped me buy a truck for my produce," Lipscomb reminisces. "I was selling [fruit] in my front yard. I had too much traffic. I was. I was violating [city ordinances]." Lipscomb had to find some way to haul his fruit.
"Mr. Schenkel helped me," says Lipscomb. "It was a Chevrolet. Used. $800. I kept that truck for close to two years. But it was a lifesaver."
While Schenkel agrees that he is quick to supply the Lipscombs with refreshments for their church--or even pick up a lunch tab for Lovie and her friends--as far as the truck is concerned, "Boy, I sure don't recall that."
Schenkel was helpful in another Lipscomb predicament involving a motor vehicle--specifically a Mercury Marquis Lipscomb bought from W.O. Bankston and then stopped paying on, causing it to be repossessed three years later. Truth be told, Lipscomb says, it would have been repossessed a lot earlier if he hadn't been so determined to fend off the repo men. Night after night, he says, knowing they were going to come for the car, he'd sit up, curtains parted a crack, watching for them.
"I remember one night they walked down the street," Lipscomb says. "And then they walked back--and I knew they weren't from the neighborhood--and then up the street a ways was the wrecker. And they went back and got the wrecker. And I had my pistol in my pocket. I walked off the porch, and I had it, and I made sure they saw it. And they cut out."
The dealership was clearly not amused by this gun-toting, car-welshing, two-term city councilman. "Mr. Schenkel called me about that," Lipscomb says. "I'm sure [the repo men] called Mr. Bankston, and he called Mr. Schenkel. He said, 'Be careful with the pistol.'"
Finally, though, the repo men made another attempt and, as luck would have it--especially for the repo men--Lipscomb had dozed off at the window and missed the action.
But Schenkel's help didn't end with advising his gun-toting friend to stay out of the penitentiary. He helped Lipscomb avoid a hefty civil judgment. After the Mercury was repossessed, Bankston paid off the bank note and resold the car but lost $3,828 on the deal. They sued Lipscomb.
But instead of going to trial in November 1988, Bankston filed a motion to dismiss the case. Asked why the suit went away, Lipscomb answers: "I think because Mr. Schenkel interfered." Schenkel confirms that he did talk to Bankston, who was a friend.
Mr. Schenkel "interfered" again in a life-and-death way when Lipscomb came down in the late '80s with a bronchial infection that was aggravated by lung-scarring left from an old bout with tuberculosis. "I remember I saw them all over the room looking at me--my wife, my daughters, some of them were all crying," says Lipscomb. "I guess they thought I was dying. I couldn't say a goddamn word. I couldn't breathe, and I had all these tubes up my nose and down my throat. And then this Jewish specialist--this man--this man came in...and he gave me a shot, some kind of inhalant, and it was like a great weight lifted off my chest. Thank you, Jesus."