The Caveman walks across the field. His long ponytail moves to the beat of the breeze and his slow pace. Upon entering his cave, a dark space filled up to the ceiling with all sorts of artifacts, the sight of unfinished projects reminds him of his place in the pack: the almighty helper.
He grabs a tool, adjusts his glasses, and remembers his current task. That student’s problematic laptop may have no fix.
“The screen keeps showing ‘insert hard disk’,” says Lee Schrader, coordinator of communication technology, pointing to the gray letters on a laptop he’s been working on. “That’s not a good sign.”
Standing at 6’4’’, though he argues it might be 6’3’’ after back surgeries, Schrader is an emblematic character behind the scenes. He runs the media lab, helps out at the broadcasting department and for years worked recording and editing chapel services. Now he edits major events, including especial chapels, plays and musicals.
Schrader loves helping students with gadgets and projects, but he enjoys establishing relationships even more. That can be difficult in the community setting of JBU.
“I’m aware I don’t fit the mold. I’m a big, hairy guy. I cannot go unnoticed,” Schrader said. “If people are put off by my appearance, that’s probably someone who wouldn’t be open to meaningful discussions. I don’t waste my time trying to make someone comfortable.”
How does a caveman end up at JBU?
Originally a broadcasting student, Schrader came to JBU in early 2000 looking for change.
After he graduated high school circa 1989, he spent his college money travelling around the world. Haiti, Ibiza, and then-divided Germany saw the caveman adventuring into the unknown, sometimes alone, with friends or even with strangers.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Schrader said with a smile. “That’s the best education I ever got.”
Schrader returned to Tulsa, Okla., his hometown since he was seven. Back home, Schrader found out his parents had moved, this time to work at a farm in Siloam Springs, Ark. He followed them a couple of years later.
“I think I was running from bill collectors and girls,” Schrader said. “I said I would help them for a while, but I liked it here.”
Schrader worked as a manager at McDonald’s for a couple of years and then at the Franklin Electric plant in town for most of the 90s. Two back surgeries helped him realize he needed a different environment.
“I couldn’t keep doing the same back-breaking labor. I wanted to use my brain,” Schrader said. “I was told I had a good radio voice, so I enrolled.”
Schrader received important scholarships, so he was pressured to maintain a high grade point average. He was 30 and married at the time, so he remained a full-time employee at Franklin Electric. He was also a full-time student and did workstudy.
80 credits into that routine and an average of two hours of sleep daily, Schrader opted to quit school, but remained working part-time as the “tech guy” in the broadcasting department.
Helping the helper
Shortly after the “burned-out moment” as Schrader calls it, Chief Information Officer Paul Nast offered him a full-time position that combined his job at broadcasting with running the media lab, video editing and media transfers.
“I was working [full-time], always helping everyone anyway,” Schrader said. “It was a matter of paying me for the job I was already doing.”
These days, Schrader works at the university seven days a week. Most of the time, he is in his “cave,” an office beside the television studio in LRC. He recently added a 20-hour week job attending the Help Desk weeknights and weekends.
“They didn’t want to intentionally make me work that much, but I was going to have to do it somewhere anyway,” Schrader said, noting the many bills that piled up after his divorce in 2009. He sought the Help Desk position to leave an extra overnight job he took at McDonalds for a year.
“[JBU] gets the advantage because I’m here even more than 60 hours a week. There’s always stuff to do,” Schrader said.
Amidst broken devices and hours of video reel, Schrader said he loved establishing meaningful connections with people who see past his Caveman looks.
“I’m not an easy fit [in the community]. My attitude is a little less reverent than most. I’m not afraid to speak even if I might be a little bit more liberal than what’s normal,” Schrader said. “But if people go beyond all of that, I’m glad to get to know them,” he added, before resuming work on the helpless computer.