Tribune Photo by Wayne Arnst

Former Butte Central and Carroll College athletic standout Mark Schulte (center) and his wife Judy have worked hard raising their family and running their convenience store. Their three sons are Robbie, 6, Rory, 3, and Ryan, 8.

Photo by Photo Solutions

Three generations of Schultes: Judy Schulte, Gracie, Mark, Briana, and new owners Rory and his wife, Holli. Rory and Holli took over the Schulte family C-Store and Coffee House legacy January 1st, 2022.

Family, business are driving forces for Mark Schulte today

Tribune Sports Writer

Mark Schulte is one of the toughest football players ever to come out of the toughest town in Montana.

The folks in Butte certainly remember him, for his attitude was typical, although his talent was extraordinary.

Schulte, who owns a convenience store in Great Falls, is this type of fellow:

• The kind who had a full mustache as a high school senior, all the better to glare at the opposing defensive linemen.

• The kind who recalls his team losing the East-West Shrine Game, but remembers better that he and his mates won the brawl the night before.

• The kind who will squeeze your hand with plenty of authority during a friendly greeting.

But reputations didn't matter 16 years ago when Schulte was given last rites by a priest while lying unconscious in a deep ditch near Elk Park.

And they didn't matter last fall when a doctor told him there was a potential time bomb in his chest that could go off at any time.

"He called it a pseudo-aneurysm, and that I'd had it for 15 years," Schulte said. "In the car accident, the engine had come through and hit me in the chest. The doctor said the aneurysm was caused by a tremendous jolt."

"I realize just how lucky I am. I have a lot of different perspective now. It's forced me not to take life so damn serious."

- Mark Schulte

"He said I'd dodged a bullet. I was lucky I'd never had it go. I was 35. (The doctor) said I wouldn't hit 40."

It's been a year now, and Schulte shows no effects from the 5-hour-long surgery to repair the weakened artery, save maybe the huge scar on his chest. But those scars are superficial. His strong grip and quick smile reveal no such inner damage.

"I realize just how lucky I am," he said. "I have a lot of different perspectives now. It's forced me not to take life so damn seriously."

It was serious in high school, though. Schulte led the Butte Central Maroons to two consecutive state championships in the mid-70s, winning 28 straight games. The Maroons also defeated arch-rival Butte High twice with Schulte at quarterback, two of only eight Central victories in the 71-year-old series.

He was just as competitive off the field.

"I remember people coming up to the house and wanting to fight him," said Steve Schulte, Mark's younger brother. "He was really something."

Mark had scholarship offers from many Big Sky Conference schools. He chose Montana State, and as a sophomore, appeared ready to claim the Car's No. 1 Quarterback job.

The car accident changed things.

Schulte woke up nine days after the wreck, minus the spleen and left lung. He weighed 197 pounds before the accident. A month and a half later he was 160.

Doctors said his football career was over. But they didn't realize how tough this fellow is.

"He's so goal-oriented," said Steve. Now the head football coach at Browning High. "Once he sets his mind to do something, he does it."

Mark didn't go back to Montana State. Instead, 2 1/2 years after the car crash, he enrolled at Carroll College. While playing for coach Bob Petrino, a former Butte Central head coach, Schulte regained much of his physical abilities.

He led the 1978 Carroll team to the NAIA national playoffs. Though his talent had diminished, his will to succeed had not.

Schulte coached football at Simms, then moved to Great Falls.

His wife, the former Judy Palagi, is from the Electric City.

His business, a family-run operation at 3800 3rd Ave S., has brought the Schultes - and their three young sons - together. A year ago, the other operation brought the family even closer.

"It's been a ton of work," Schulte said of the store, "but it's been the most rewarding thing I've ever done in my life. My wife has been an incredible person through it all."

Schulte is a busy man, yet he finds time to stay active athletically. He plays softball and basketball, and he plays hard.

"(The repaired artery) is supposed to be stronger than it ever was before," Schulte said. "The doctor said if it goes, it goes. I can't worry about it. Just go for it and live one day at a time."

Schulte is no longer a coach, but he stays close to football with a striped shirt and a whistle. Among his fellow Great Falls referees, Schulte is considered a fine official who is not too proud to work a sub-varsity game.

Of course, Schulte doesn't really believe he has anything to be arrogant about. He doesn't have time for that.

"I really feel lucky," he said. "I deal with nice people every day. And I'm getting to watch my kids grow up.

"At this point in my life, I really consider myself lucky."

Schulte’s 38th Street Store & Coffee House:

A Beloved Local Gem Embracing Community and Culinary Excellence

Great Falls, Montana - Nestled in the heart of this close-knit community, Schulte’s 38th Street Store & Coffee House stands as a shining example of a locally-owned convenience store and coffee haven with a profound commitment to customer service, product quality, and community engagement. For over three decades, Mark and Judy, the dedicated owners, have nurtured their business with unwavering passion, earning the hearts of their loyal patrons and becoming an integral part of Great Falls' identity.

At Schulte’s, the heartbeat of their success lies in their core values, deeply ingrained in every aspect of their operation. "Our mission has, and always will be, customer service," shares Judy with a smile. They firmly believe in providing an unparalleled experience to each customer, ensuring that whether it's a quick stop for essentials or a leisurely visit to the Coffee House, patrons feel valued and cared for.

Beyond being just another gas station, Schulte’s prides itself on its customer-centric attitude, which permeates every corner of the Coffee House as well. "We don’t want to be ‘just another gas station’," says Mark. Indeed, their dedication to serving the community extends to ensuring that people leave Schulte’s with something they genuinely enjoy and return for again and again. "We want people leaving Schulte’s with something they are going to enjoy and brings them back again and again," adds Judy, emphasizing the importance of 100% customer satisfaction with both their experience and purchases.

Community has always been the backbone of Schulte’s success. From its inception in December 1989, the store has been built and supported by the warm embrace of the neighborhood. Mark and Judy, recognizing the significance of this support, have made giving back to the community a priority. Whether through sponsoring local groups or engaging in community events, Schulte’s demonstrates its unwavering commitment to the people it serves.

With goals continually evolving to align with their mission and values, Schulte’s is constantly seeking improvement while involving customers and the community in their journey. "In turn, we get the wonderful opportunity to give back when our community needs us," shares Mark. This dedication has resulted in a wealth of cherished relationships with their customers and community, which remains the store's most significant achievement.

Undoubtedly, Schulte’s is a culinary haven in Great Falls. With its signature fried food that many believe to be the best in the area, the store has become a one-stop destination offering coffee, baked goods, cold treats, dinner, and even gas, all under one roof. An average of 25 tons of chicken is cooked yearly, highlighting the store's unwavering commitment to delivering delicious offerings to its patrons.

Amid the challenges posed by the tumultuous times of 2020/2021, Schulte’s demonstrated remarkable resilience. Implementing strict cleaning protocols and adapting their operations for customer safety were just some of the steps taken. Additionally, the pandemic led to the introduction of a delivery service, enhancing accessibility and convenience for customers. Throughout it all, the Great Falls community displayed unwavering support for local businesses like Schulte’s, strengthening the bond between the store and its patrons.

As they step into 2022, Mark and Judy's vision for Schulte’s is clear - to get back to the basics of community involvement and excellent customer service. The store's foundation lies in these principles, and they are eager to build upon them to meet the needs of the ever-evolving community.

Passionate about Great Falls and dedicated to its prosperity, Mark and Judy's love for the community echoes in every corner of Schulte’s. "We hope anyone considering coming to this area gets to see the amazingness we see every day from our point of view," they say with genuine pride. Indeed, Schulte’s 38th Street Store & Coffee House is a beloved local gem, adored by its patrons and treasured by the community it serves.