Editor’s note: This is the third installment of stories about Fulton Families. The monthly series tells the stories of families that have either lived in Fulton for ages or perhaps only a short while — but the common bond will be they love the city and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. If you know of a family we should highlight, please email Debbie Groom, Valley News managing editor, at email@example.com.
By Ashley M. Casey
Entering Fulton on Route 481, there is a red, white and green sign — G. Ray Bodley colors — bearing the silhouette of a hockey player. It reads “Welcome to Fulton: Hometown of Rob Schremp, 1st Fultonian in the NHL.”
Rob Schremp’s athletic success is no fluke. The entire Schremp family — and their dozens of relatives — are known throughout Fulton for their involvement in the city’s sports world. This involvement keeps them tied to their community and to each other.
Rob’s uncle, Mike — the eldest of Elizabeth and the late William Schremp’s seven children — helped open the ice rink at the Fulton War Memorial and jump-started the youth hockey program there.
“I was the first one to play hockey in our family. I started when I was 28,” Mike recalled. “It just got in my blood, and I did everything I could to learn how to skate, coach and ref. My kids followed.”
Mike’s siblings, children, nieces and nephews joined as well.
His brother, Jerry, has run the youth basketball league for more than two decades and serves as the supervisor of recreation maintenance at the City of Fulton Recreation Department.
Sports have always been a family affair for the Schremps. Their father, William, who died at age 56 in 1978, was an accomplished athlete in high school and encouraged the same of his children.
“My dad was very supportive. He went to see all our games. When I was a kid, I’d ride along with him,” Jerry remembered.
“The War Memorial back then was open five days a week for basketball and I was there every day,” Mike said. “I just kind of followed through with my brothers and sisters.”
Mike played semi-professional basketball, and Jerry was the team’s ball boy.
“As younger brothers look at the older brothers, we all took off from that,” Jerry said. When Jerry grew up and had his own children, they too played basketball.
“My youngest son started playing. Then they said they needed someone to take over the league, so I took over the league and my nieces and nephews started playing.”
Under Jerry’s leadership, the youth basketball program has blossomed.
“Before (Jerry) took it over there was probably 100 kids. Now there’s almost 600,” Mike said.
“When organized sports got big, Jerry was running Knee-Hi basketball and so we reffed and played in it from the time we were little,” recalled Nicole Doty, daughter of Jerry and Mike’s sister Terrye Schremp Plonka. Today, “Coco,” as her family calls her, coaches basketball herself.
The sense of leadership among the Schremps must be hereditary. After Mike’s stint as the youth hockey league’s coach, referee and president, his son, Jeff, has followed in his footsteps as president.
Much like his uncle Jerry, he too helped out with his adult relatives’ sports: Jeff was a bat boy for a softball team in which his father and several of his uncles participated.
Only happy memories
When Jerry and Mike were growing up, youth sports were far less organized than they are today. But the sense of community camaraderie was greater than in today’s tech-driven world.
“It was always pickup games. Back then that’s what you did,” Jerry said. “You make a couple phone calls — you didn’t have Facebook to put it out. You actually had to call 10 guys and tell them, ‘Hey, we’ve got a football game going. Come on down.’ We all were in sports. All our neighbors … were involved in the same things.”
The Schremp home at 1 Denesha Place, near Lake Neatahwanta, was always abuzz with children coming and going.
“I had a group of friends my age, most of whom were from Hannibal, and Saturday nights about one night a month they would come to my house and my mother would make spaghetti and meatballs,” Mike said.
One set of friends — William and Warren Smith, who ran Smith & Smith Insulation — were so impressed with Elizabeth’s cooking that they installed insulation in her home for free.
Jerry recalled that his mother was always baking.
“My dad worked, she stayed home and took care of the kids, and baked every day,” he said. “I remember getting out of school and coming down the street and you could smell … either cookies, or bread — she baked bread three times a week. We always had fritters and cookies and doughnuts.”
“When I was a lineman with Niagara Mohawk (now National Grid), and I was at a job in the area, guys would say, ‘Hey, your mother gonna make any doughnuts today?’” Mike remembered.
Jeff and Coco said they often ate lunch at their grandmother’s house while in high school, and so did their friends.
“We had friends from school who would go over to her house when we weren’t even there!” Coco laughed.
“Half the kids in Fulton called her ‘Grandma,” Jerry joked of his mother, who is now 89.
“She’s been the glue that holds the family together,” Mike said.
Many family friends make sure to ask about Elizabeth. Jeff said he has even met people from out of town who hear he is a Schremp and have a story to share.
“They always ask about her, and they always tell a story about spaghetti or bread or pierogies or something that she cooked for them,” he said.
Jerry and Mike said both their parents worked hard to give their seven kids everything they needed and more.
They said after paying the bills, their father always made sure they had a little left over for fun.
One of his special traditions was eating a big bowl of popcorn and drinking apple cider on Sunday nights.
“Whenever I look back at my childhood, I don’t have any bad memories. (We had a) great time growing up,” Mike said. “We didn’t know we were poor.”
When asked why they have all remained in Fulton, the family members each cited the close-knit, small-town attitude in Fulton.
“When anybody has any kind of hardship, and anybody puts a benefit on, the whole community comes together,” Jerry said.
The Schremps have experienced Fulton’s generosity firsthand. Mike and Jerry’s brother, Paul, was diagnosed with cancer.
The family held a benefit for him in January 2013, and received an “outpouring of support.”
“There were three benefits on the same day as Uncle Paul’s and we were worried,” Coco said, “(but) people that went, went to all three of them.”
“Fulton’s not a rich community, but … when someone’s in need, people step up,” Mike said. “That’s one of the things we like.”
The community’s sense of love is reflected within the Schremps, who scarcely let a day go by without a get-together, big or small.
In addition to regular meals, movie outings and game nights, the family likes to gather every Fourth of July at Terrye and Tom Plonka’s camp on Higley Flow in Colton, St. Lawrence County, which the whole family pitched in to build.
Coco is a teacher at Lanigan Elementary School, and one of her colleagues is her cousin, Karrie Schremp, Jerry’s daughter. She has had her nieces and nephews in her classes as well.
She is well aware of what it’s like to go to school in close proximity with one’s cousins.
“We always had people to watch our back — or get us in trouble,” she said.
Coco recalled a recent day at Lanigan in which her son, Trevor, and Jeff’s son, Nick, sped toward each other for a hug as if they hadn’t seen each other in ages.
“You guys just saw each other two days ago!” Coco laughed.
“It’s not like we see each other once a year. We just love being together,” Jeff said. “That’s the values we’d like to pass on to our kids.”
Not only do the Schremps love getting together, but they love their hometown as well. Jerry said the idea of moving elsewhere had never crossed his mind.
Although they’ve seen big changes in Fulton over the years, especially with the loss of industry, the heart of the community remains the same.
“We’re still proud to live here,” Mike said.
The Schremps attend most of Fulton’s parades, festivals and other events. They also strive to shop locally to keep Fulton’s businesses in Fulton.
“For our jerseys and stuff like that, we always order from B&T (Sport Shop),” Jeff said. “They’re friends of ours that live in the community, work in the community, and we want their business to thrive too.”
Coco said the family also has chosen to continue attending the Church of the Holy Trinity instead of moving to other area churches.
“It’s our one Catholic church here in Fulton, so we all stick around and still go,” she said.
“You’ve got to get people involved in this community stuff and be proud about it,” Jeff said.
The family recalled that when Rob was drafted into the NHL in 2004, 140 Fultonians traveled to North Carolina to watch the draft.
“I took my motorhome and they gave us permission to park it next to the hotel where we were staying,” Mike said. “The Saturday after the draft, we had a huge cookout and word got around and the local news media showed up.”
Jeff said while his cousin may have achieved his dream of going pro, he’s never forgotten his Fulton roots or his family’s giving spirit.
“He never forgot his values. He was always the last one off the ice and he would always throw pucks into the stands. He’s always the last one signing autographs,” Jeff said.
Rob, who now plays for Switzerland’s EV Zug team, occasionally returns home to visit Jeff’s practices or Coco’s school.
“He’ll do whatever you ask,” Jeff said.
Through their involvement in the sports community, the Schremps are returning the favor that Fulton has shown them.
“It’s been such a great pleasure to see kids that I coached or that were in my league when I started now grown up and they’ve turned around and they’re giving back to the community by coaching,” Jerry said. “I’ve got a lot of enjoyment out of when I was coaching, and this is my way of giving back by trying to make sure it keeps going.”
Family members interviewed:
- Mike Schremp, 67
- Jerry Schremp, 60
- Jeff Schremp, 40, son of Mike
- Nicole “Coco” Doty, 31, daughter of Terrye Schremp Plonka
Elizabeth and the late William Schremp had seven children and one child who died in infancy. They have 24 grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren and more on the way. Of the seven Schremp children, six still live in Fulton — Ray and his family live in Cicero.
Elizabeth and William’s children
- Rita Higgins
- Terrye Plonka