HADAR — Gary Schuett put himself on a five-year plan when it came to owning a business in a town with fewer than 300 residents.
In the mid-1990s, the mechanic purchased a shop in the small southern Pierce County village of Hadar and began operating Hometown Auto Repair.
“I had a plan in mind that if, in five years, I didn’t feel like I was doing what I needed to be doing or the business wasn’t going as well as I thought it should be, I’d go find a job somewhere,” Schuett said.
Since then, Schuett has spent the past 25 years or so serving clients from Hadar, Pierce, Norfolk and various other places in Northeast Nebraska. Despite his hometown’s size, Schuett said he never really doubted whether the shop would be a success.
“I didn’t have a question in my mind at all it would (succeed),” he said. “Now, we’re busy, busy, busy.”
The Hadar community has a special place in Schuett’s heart. It’s where he grew up, attended school and worked on his first car — a 1974 Mercury Comet he still owns. He attended Hadar School District 15, a now-closed school that was located just across the alley from his boyhood home. He later graduated from Pierce High School.
“This is my hometown,” Schuett said. “I’ve lived here practically my whole life.”
Schuett said his interest in mechanics began at a young age in the Hadar community, as well. He worked with his dad on cars in the garage while growing up, changing out motors and transmissions. He later started spending his time with Gus Wagner at Wagner Repair, which was about a block and a half from his home.
“I went there and watched and helped,” Schuett said. “He helped me overhaul my first motor in my school car.”
Schuett then worked for Randy Droescher in Hadar and Don Novotny in Norfolk before the opportunity to purchase Droescher’s mechanic shop arose in the mid-1990s.
“I had always said I wanted to own by own business by the time I was 30, and when Randy left, that came through,” Schuett said.
Schuett said there was little question in his mind that owning a shop in a town the size of Hadar could be successful. He had begun building a reputation as a good mechanic while working at other shops, and a lot of the businesses that utilized Droescher’s shop continued to use Hometown Auto Repair after Schuett purchased it.
“It’s like one person told me when I came into business: You treat a person fairly, and they will come in the door,” he said.
Schuett’s role in the Hadar community stretches beyond owning one of the town’s few businesses. He also serves as chief of the Hadar Volunteer Fire & Rescue.
He joined the fire department after then-chief Dale Clipston asked him if he had any interest in becoming a member shortly after Schuett had purchased the auto repair shop. He also was among the first class of first responders on the crew in the early 2000s.
“We didn’t have rescue at that time,” he said. “We got a first responder class together so we could at least take some medical supplies to start CPR or first aid or whatever we needed to.”
A few years later, the first EMT class began so they could transport patients. Out of the 11 who were part of the initial group, only two remain; Schuett is one of them.
Today, there are 24 who serve on Hadar Volunteer Fire & Rescue. Schuett is working with others in the community to build a new hall for the Hadar fire department. In 2016, the estate of Farrell Heckman — a bachelor farmer from the Hadar area — left a $600,000 gift to be used toward the construction of a new fire hall in Hadar.
“Our general set of plans is that it’s simple, easy to maintain, easy to clean but still provides good spaces for our trucks,” Schuett said.
Construction is underway on the new hall, but delays were met throughout the process as the department waited for large water tanks to accommodate the facility’s needs, Schuett said.
Schuett said some of his most memorable times being part of the Hadar community have been shared with other department members, and he’s looking forward to having construction of the new hall complete.
“The good times that helped offset all of the bad times,” he said. “One of the biggest is the new fire hall. That’s going to be a huge, huge load not only off my mind, but it will be such an advancement in our fire department. It’s going to be unreal.”