Published August 01 2011
Well-known businessman, philanthropist, photographer Fred Scheel dies at age 90
He was a World War II veteran, an accomplished photographer, a successful businessman, a philanthropist, a missionary and a devoted family man.
Scheel died Saturday at age 90.
Throughout his life, Scheel was a prominent figure in the Fargo-Moorhead community – leaving a legacy through his family business, his generous nature and his fondness for the arts.
Fred Scheel was the third generation in the line of Scheel men to own and operate the family’s sporting goods empire that began in 1902 as a small hardware and general merchandise store in Sabin, Minn.
Outside of business, Scheel had a lifelong love of photography – both in appreciating the art and creating it himself.
At just 14 years old, one of Scheel’s photographs was published in Field & Stream magazine.
After graduating from Moorhead High School in 1938, Scheel fought in World War II as a Marine fighter pilot in the South Pacific.
He returned home in 1946 and took over the Scheels hardware business his grandfather had started.
Scheel spent 40-plus years with the business before retiring.
During those years, the Scheels brand expanded into sporting goods, eventually including the launch of the first Scheels All Sports Superstore in 1989 in Grand Forks.
Today, the Fargo-based company has 23 stores in eight states under the leadership of Scheel’s son – CEO Steve D. Scheel – and grandson – President Steve M. Scheel.
As a family man, Scheel shared his love of nature with his children on summer trips to Canada and the West Coast, his son remembered.
Scheel taught his children how to use their skills and success to help others in the community, Steve D. Scheel said.
“He was an incredible role model,” Steve Scheel said, recalling the “high standards and expectations” his father held him to as he was groomed in the family business.
“Anything he did, he wanted to do it off-the-charts well,” Steve Scheel added. “He was just a man of so many talents.”
Aside from his business success, Fred Scheel’s passion for photography continued to grow.
He studied and practiced on his own but wanted to learn from the best.
In the 1960s, Scheel was accepted to the California School of Fine Arts, where he studied under such photography masters as Ansel Adams and Brett Weston, his son said.
Scheel befriended both Adams and Weston, and the three men would often spend time at the beach, analytically capturing photographs of sunrises, Steve Scheel remembered.
After Adams died in 1984, Scheel and Weston helped teach in the photography program to keep the school going, Steve Scheel said.
Throughout his life, Fred Scheel amassed an expansive photography collection, including hundreds of original works.
He also published books of photography, along with a book of poetry.
In recent years, Scheel donated much of his photographic treasures to area art museums.
In 2007, Scheel gave more than 600 prints to the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and in 2010, 266 photographs in Scheel’s collection went on display at Fargo’s Plains Art Museum.
The exhibit – which features 166 of Scheel’s own prints – closes Aug. 12.
“Fred saw pattern and form – a sense of order – in the world,” museum director Colleen Sheehy said in a statement when the exhibit was announced. “He helps us to see the beauty all around us.”
Scheel eventually reconnected with his piloting skills and purchased his own aerobatic airplane, a Pit Special.
Steve Scheel recalled many July Fourths when his father would perform stunts over Pelican Lake. Fred Scheel ultimately sold the plane after his 75th birthday.
Scheel was also an avid philanthropist in the Fargo-Moorhead community during his life.
He assisted in fundraising drives at North Dakota State University and held leadership roles within the Chamber of Commerce and the United Way.
Behind the scenes, Scheel’s Christian beliefs sparked even more generosity. He donated enough funds to start a mission church in Madagascar, which he later visited.
“He loved to give back to the community, and he taught us all to do that,” Steve Scheel said. “Whenever there was a fire in the community, he’d just write out a check and send it to them with a note: ‘Hope this helps get you through the tough times.’ ”
“That’s the man he was,” Steve Scheel said.
After suffering a stroke in 2003, Scheel’s health deteriorated, his son said.
Scheel struggled with Alzheimer’s and progressive dementia in the last years of his life.
Scheel died Saturday at Elim Care Center in Fargo. Funeral arrangements are pending through Hanson-Runsvold Funeral Home.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541