Barbara E. Schowalter, a longtime resident of Royal Oak and co-founder of , died Jan. 25.
Schowalter was born in Detroit and graduated from Immaculata High School. She earned a degree in education and social work at Siena Heights College.
She met her husband, Frank, in Detroit. After a brief courtship, they married and moved to Royal Oak in the 1940s, where they built a house and raised six children.
Frank Schowalter, who died 20 years ago, owned a manufacturing business in Detroit that made parts for the automotive industry. After work, he enjoyed gem cutting as a hobby, said Tom Schowalter, the youngest of Barbara and Frank’s children.
“When he filled the basement and a two-car garage with stuff, my mom asked him to move his hobby elsewhere,” Tom said.
Frank noticed that a small six-unit strip mall on Rochester Road had a space for rent and moved his hobby out of the basement. He would come home from work and spend time with his family, then head over to his shop. Initially, Frank never thought about owning a retail store, Tom said. That changed.
Together, Frank and Barbara founded the Miner’s Den in 1971.
“They ran the business together. My father’s passion became my mother’s,” Tom said. “They were deeply in love. The business brought them together even more.”
Eventually, all the Schowalter children became involved in the business. Today, the Miner’s Den is a multimillion-dollar business with 20 employees, and the one-time hobby now occupies all the spaces in the small strip mall.
“As businesses in the mall closed, we bought them all one by one until we consumed the whole area,” Tom said.
Heart of gold
While Frank knew a thing or two about gems, it was Barbara who knew how to treat clients.
“My mom loved her customers,” Tom said. “She was a great guide to us on how to treat people. I want my kids to grow up to be just like her.”
Tom said Barbara doted on her grandchildren. They were her focus, he said.
“Her family came first and then her faith,” Tom said.
Barbara attended , and all her children went to .
In the summer, the family spent time on Torch Lake, where they own a second home. Barbara loved northern Michigan, Tom said.
“She was lucky. We were lucky. We have a big family, and we are all close,” Tom said. All the Schowalter children still live in Michigan.
Private memorial service
Barbara is survived by her children, Michael (Patty), Anne Michelon (Dave), Barb (Joe Tourongeau), Beth Guntzviller (Wayne), Dave (Ruth) and Tom (Sue); 14 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.
A private service was held in her honor.
Memorial tributes can be made to Holy Redeemer Parish, Barbara’s childhood parish in Detroit.
Barbara built a house in Royal Oak and never moved, Tom said, until now. “We know she has moved on to a better place.”