ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — He was born in a tiny village inaccessible by road and so high in the mountains of Peru that it seemed as if he must be pretty close to the top of the world.
And then he came to Albuquerque and found his way to the top.
Steve Schroeder, CEO and founder of successful web-tech company Real Time Solutions, has told the story of his humble, heartbreaking rags-to-riches story many times. Chris, one of two Schroeder sons who works at Real Time, has heard the story many times.
And yet, as the elder Schroeder retells it, both men still choke up.
“Sometimes I can tell the story fine,” he says, wiping away tears. “And sometimes it gets emotional.”
He tells his story now about how a little Peruvian boy named Diego became a big businessman named Steve Schroeder because it seems more important than ever to speak about the power of education, the contributions of immigrants, the generosity of heart and the importance of giving back.
The Schroeders are all about that.
“I’m an immigrant,” Schroeder, 67, said. “I came over as a child. But I’m a proud American. And I think a guy like me is more representative of what an immigrant is – hard-working, generous, caring about the community. I’m not the exception. I’m the norm.”
Real Time Solutions – which has produced more than 1,500 websites and software applications, including the popular nmroads.com and nmcourts.gov – moved from Downtown, where it had been located since opening its doors in 2000, to its site on Mountain NW across from Old Town in September.
It’s a place of contrasts between traditional territorial and modern glass, a style reflective of Steve Schroeder, who is crafted by his roots and his reach into futuristic technology.
But let’s start at his roots, which begin with a European-bred grad student of archaeology named Federico who hiked to the Andean village of Colcabamba in search of ancient ruins.
He found them – and he found the love of a village girl named Florencia.
From their union came Schroeder – called Diego then – in 1951 and a brother six years later.
Federico left her and the village to teach at a university in Lima, a large metropolis 280 miles south. Eventually, she and her two sons followed.
But they were doomed from the start, their relationship ill-fated, forbidden.
“There was a class distinction between them that my father’s family could not get over,” Schroeder said. “They wouldn’t even meet her. It was an impossible situation.”
In 1956, Federico traveled to the University of New Mexico to study for the summer. There, he met Dr. Florence Schroeder, a professor in the education department who had adopted two boys from Jemez Pueblo.
Federico asked her whether she might like to adopt two more boys.
Diego was 6 that December when he boarded a plane with his father and baby brother and waved goodbye to his mother. She had not been told of the pending adoption and that she would never see her sons again – and neither had Diego.
“Emotionally, it was tough,” he said. “I spoke no English, understood nothing of what was happening, what happened to my mother, what happened to my father after he left us.”
Florence renamed the boys Steve and Fredric and proved to be a strict disciplinarian, especially when it came to their education.
Both boys studied hard and did well, even after Fredric went blind at age 8 from an inflammatory disease called Stevens-Johnson syndrome. He received his doctorate in education administration from UNM. Today, he and his wife live in Virginia, and he serves as president of the World Blind Union, which represents blind and partially sighted persons in 190 member countries.
Steve embarked on what he calls his “odyssey,” working back-breaking jobs from farming to logging from Mississippi to Alaska.
In his 30s, he returned to Albuquerque, graduating with a master’s degree from UNM’s Anderson School of Management.
For 15 years, he worked in technology and software at Sandia National Laboratories, but set off on another odyssey, this one involving running his own company.
Today, Real Time Solutions employs 22 people. Because of his company’s success, he is able to reach back to the community by nurturing other small businesses and local entrepreneurs.
“If you take care of your community, your community takes care of you,” said Chris Schroeder, chief operating officer, lead designer and the force behind WeConnectNM, a small business economic development think tank and app. “My Pops taught me the importance of that.”
Time changes things. Today, Colcabamba can be reached by a small, unpaved road.
Steve Schroeder, a former Hispano Chamber of Commerce chairman, has also reached out to his father, a renowned Peruvian archaeologist.
But for years, he wondered what had become of his mother.
Then came a mysterious phone call in January 1995 from a man with a broken accent. Florencia, he learned, had gone to college courtesy of his father, earned her degree and became a teacher.
And this is where Schroeder’s tears come as he recalls the first time in nearly 40 years that he heard her voice, the first time he hugged her again that summer when he invited her and her husband to Albuquerque.
“It was a great reunion,” he said.
Life is pretty great, as it turns out, at the top.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg.