John Schroff, aged 82, is a retired Royal Oak firefighter who was born in Royal Oak in 1926 and who graduated from Royal Oak High School, as did his sisters Alice and Barbara. All of them attended Oakland School and Madison High School “until our area was annexed to Royal Oak in 1941.” Earlier in life, he worked with his dad and served as a radio operator in the Merchant Marine. John has provided our museum with documents and photographs and the capsule history below.
Grandfather Paul Schroff and Wilhelmina Roediger married in Detroit, in about 1871. John’s father, Peter, was born in Royal Oak in 1888 and died here in 1965.
About 1912, Peter founded the Liberty Ice Company. He owned a lot near the ice pond on Pingree, between Troy and Fairgrove, from which he cut and sold blocks of ice. He leased “ice rights” from a Mr. Lambie and built an ice house on what proved to be the wrong lot. The lot’s owner refused to trade lots, so Peter moved the ice house and “started his career as a building-mover.”
Peter’s wife, Doris, and her sister Gladys were hired as telephone operators around 1914. The exchange was upstairs of the Lochbinler Store and later relocated to upstairs of Robinson Lumber, at Fifth and Main. Joined by other operators, they organized the “Hello Girls,” a group which met to compare experiences for several years. (Our museum has on exhibit a picture of the Hello Girls and several more Schroff-related photographs.)
When the Grand Trunk Railroad right-of-way was relocated in about 1928, Peter got the contract to relocate 52 houses and buildings. That project lasted into 1931.
In 1931, Peter was elected Township Supervisor. He served one year during which he “was responsible for installing crocks in many of the deep ditches along some of the mile-roads.”
Before all that, John’s grandfather, Paul Schroff, had bought a farm at the southeast corner of Eleven Mile and Campbell, in 1876, “but he didn’t move there until 1888.” Paul owned “a farm, a hotel, and a saloon” at Woodward and Five Mile (Davison). He maintained a menagerie there, and he operated the “Detroit Zoological Garden” at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Tenth.
Before labor unions, a supportive organization called the Metropolitan Club lobbied the state on behalf of police officers, firefighters, and postal workers, John recalls. The organization still exists but mostly as a social club. Retired Royal Oak firemen meet monthly, and “guys who couldn’t get along together in their active years” discover they like each other. John was captain from 1964 to 1988 at the Northwood Fire Station, the future home of the Historical Society Museum.
John Schroff is a widower. His wife, nee Elinor Kraase, “came from another long-time Royal Oak family,” he says. His interest in family history has led him to trips to Germany, where “it’s difficult to identify and locate the specific churches which kept the birth and baptismal records you need.”
The Curator and one of the founding members of the Royal Oak Historical Society Museum.