NEW ULM - Most folks in New Ulm and the surrounding area know Tom Schwarz as a realtor and property appraiser. After all, he's been in the business for 43 years now.
However, unless you're a senior citizen or are disabled, you would have no reason to know that he has been a volunteer income and property tax preparer for the past 25 years during "tax season," working without pay. (It's a program sponsored by AARP, formerly American Association of Retired Persons, and administered locally by New Ulm's CAST (Community And Seniors Together} organization. The only "payment" he got was mileage reimbursement when travel was required.)
"I started doing taxes for the [tax season] year of '82. I just did them on Wednesdays between February 1st and April 15th as a general rule. Then, sometimes it would go on until August 15th [involving] the property tax return they had to have filed by [that date] because they didn't have any income tax, but we had to fill out the form in order for them to get a rebate," Schwarz recalled.
Tom Schwarz has volunteered to prepare taxes for seniors for the past 25 years.
"So, property primarily rent credit and property tax credit is what I generally did for them, but I was [given responsibility for] doing the 1040 or self-employed, everything except the farm thing, I didn't do that," he explained.
He would have started sooner, but a heart attack in 1981 led to open-heart surgery on St. Patrick's Day in 1982.
"So, that was '82, and then in '83 I started doing taxes for the '82 [tax] season. Then, fast-forward 25 years [takes] us up to last year."
Then, that begs the question of how he developed an interest in doing other people's taxes.
"Well, I got a lot of experience in tax work where I used to work [at the Redwood County REA in Clements]. I did all the tax work. I started in '48 and was there 18 years until '66. For 15 years of those years I was office manager."
When he left the REA, he bought out a real estate agent in Sleepy Eye, starting a real estate career that continues today. He'll be taking a real estate test in May "so I can keep on selling for a year or two."
Although filling out income tax forms doesn't sound all that exciting, Schwarz says it's the people that he came in contact with while doing their tax forms that made the job particularly interesting.
"We had one person who came there, they know we don't usually take people that have more than $25,000 income, and this one guy came and he was kind of in a hurry. I said, You know I really shouldn't be doing yours. You've got about $45,000 worth of income. 'Well, then, give it to me,' he says, 'I'll go and take it somewhere else.' I said, well, I've [just about] got all of this done, I might as well do it, finish it, and he said 'thank you.' He would have paid $150 at H&R Block for doing it."
However, the tax season did keep a volunteer like himself busy, Schwarz said.
The season started "usually the first Wednesday of February until April 15th [with a] regular schedule at the Senior Center. Then, after that, I also did Sunset Apartments. Two different times I'd do Sunsets for two [or three] days in a row. I usually could do 15 a day up there because there's not much to it. I didn't have far to go at Sunsets, but it kind of tied up your Fridays or Wednesdays during that time," Schwarz noted.
"Generally, the people they realize the guidelines [so the form filling went faster], and at times we had more help. I started out with an Elmer Lehmann who retired from 3M. He helped with taxes, but he got diabetes pretty bad and died. Then, I was the only one after that for probably 10 years," Schwarz recalled.
"Then, after that, we got someone in there. That was Archie Daleiden, who was the manager of Flandrau [State] Park. He is in there, and so is Sue Sutton. She does the computer ones because I never did learn computers."
Over the years, the number of tax forms he's filled out has become quite sizable.
"I probably did as many as 105 [in a tax season], but, on average, I could safely say that I did 75 returns a year. You multiply that by 25 years, that's quite a few people [1,875 to be exact]. You'd have long lines," he said, laughing.
"I enjoyed working with people. Each one had a different story to tell."