Dunes Schroeder

Duane “Dunes” Schroeder

Guest Letter

The man’s smile brightened up the room even more than the beautifully handcrafted floral arrangements he lovingly prepared for customers. 

That smile, as well as his selflessness, giving personality, and giggle are just a few of the characteristics locals will miss most about longtime Lost Nation resident Duane “Dunes” Schroeder. He died Nov. 30 after fighting a three-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

A celebration of his life was held at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at First Lutheran Church, Maquoketa. A five-hour visitation was held Wednesday at Maquoketa’s The Timber Center, a final connection to one of the jobs and the Clasen/McLaughlin families he loved.

Schroeder worked for more than 25 years as a bartender at Timber Lanes in Maquoketa, which is owned and operated by Louie Clasen and his daughter, Sam McLaughlin.

“Dunes was everyone’s best friend,” McLaughlin said Tuesday. “Dunes always went out of his way to make others feel special.”

Schroeder factored into just about every part of life from childhood to adulthood, McLaughlin said.

“He was the most talented person I knew with crafts and flowers, and often came over early before he took us to school to make crafts for our Mom. He was a staple at Timber Lanes and we always knew we could count on Dunes to help us and treat all our customers/guests with respect.”

Schroeder was born in Maquoketa on Sept. 13, 1957, but grew up in Lost Nation. He graduated from Lost Nation High School in 1977. The rural Clinton County town served as the backdrop of much of his life and is where he died a week ago, at the home of his brother, Alan Schroeder.

His Lost Nation cronies tagged him with the name Doonesbury when he played basketball in high school. The name finally stuck after he began working in his brother Robert’s Welcome Flowers shop there. 

Well, the public shortened it to Dunes.

Schroeder discovered his love for flowers at an early age, he told the Sentinel-Press in April 2017 as his legions of friends and family were organizing a benefit in his honor. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which has little treatment and no cure.

“[Flowers] just make people smile,” he said. “I like that.”

“I would help Robert at the shop,” Schroeder said in a Sentinel-Press cooking column from 2007. “He taught me the basics of flower arranging and working in the greenhouse. I have also worked in greenhouses in California, Davenport, Wisconsin and in Maquoketa. I combined what I’ve learned in flower arrangement and other important things in the greenhouse.”

He returned to operate his brother’s floral shop in 1987 and stayed there for five years.

“I like to go out of the box,” Schroeder said in 2017. “Traditional is the same old thing. Sometimes I tell the girls here [at RonAnn’s] you just have to sell air. You get the same kind of flowers but instead you’re selling the air. I like to sell the air to where it looks like you’re missing something, but at the same time, you aren’t. It’s one little spot that leads to questions. That’s what I’ve found, and that’s good.” 

His talent and work ethic showed, according to Wendy Scott, owner/operator of RonAnn’s Floral Shoppe in Maquoketa. 

“I worked beside him for 14 years and always looked forward to sharing his talents with an admiring public,” Scott said.

Schroeder loved to share the beauty of his talents with others, as well as his sense of humor, RonAnn’s staffers recalled. Because he loved board games and card games, Schroeder organized group “game days” for everyone to enjoy time together outside work.

Co-workers recall that Schroeder loved road trips with no planned destinations, as well as planning and decorating for the holidays. He also was a packrat who loved to stash items at the shop so only he knew where they were, co-workers said.

Schroeder pursued his loved for flowers and plants as a member of the Jackson County Master Gardeners. He was a member of the Jackson County Fair Board Association and was an avid bowler.

He started feeling ill in February 2016. That December, doctors told Schroeder he was “99.9 percent cancer.”

The cancer caused him to lose 80 pounds in five months. He also underwent various forms of cancer treatment, including chemotherapy, radiation, and the “Whipple” procedure in which surgeons remove part of the pancreas, small intestine and gallbladder.

Money raised at the May 2017 “Keep Smiling” Schroeder benefit helped to pay his medical bills and general living expenses.

His health deteriorated, but before he died he crossed some items off his “bucket list,” according to his RonAnn’s co-workers: he was a guest designer at a large floral design show and traveled to Las Vegas for a market show the flower shop attended there.

Still, Schroeder’s loving and giving character dominated his personality, those close to him said.

“He was such a selfless, wonderful man — a very good friend to many,” Scott described. “He never met anyone he couldn’t win over with his happy, uplifting nature, his smile and giggle. 

“There is no way I can capture who Dunes really was,” Scott added. “He was so different depending on who he was with. But his love of people was always constant. He will never be forgotten.”