Betty Thomas Schulz of Chester passed away at her home on December 8, 2011. She was 87.
Betty was born on Kent Island in Chester, MD, the daughter of “Capt.” Alec Thomas and Anna Mae Ruth. Her parents opened the original Fisherman’s Inn in 1930 when she was 6 years old. From that moment, her life revolved around Fisherman’s Inn. The original Inn itself was a one story building with 2 bedrooms on one side and the dining room (seating 26 people!) on the other side with the kitchen in the rear. The entrance was a small front porch. There was a Cupid Ice Cream sign on the top and 3 Atlantic Gas pumps in the front. It started life as a stopping point for people going to the beach.
In 1939, an upstairs of 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms was added, plus a store on the side for the convenience of the oyster shuckers and crab pickers who lived in the “shanties” (owned at that time by at least 10 other seafood packing houses in the area). Today there is one left just for shucking oysters. They were lucky, and the business survived by her parents’ hard work, even preparing for the next day’s business by picking crabs and shucking oysters overnight (and throwing the shells out back in the marsh). They also had build nine cabins to rent out to motorists and fishermen.
A few years later, her father built the W. A. Thomas Packing House, accessible in the back by a small county road and in the front by a 3 board wide boardwalk built over the marsh. This was made accessible when the marsh was filled in by sand from the dredging of the Narrows’ channel in May 1950. The Inn was added onto several times over the years by side porches, eventually seating 130 people by 1953.
Betty graduated from Stevensville High School in 1943 and the Bard Avon Business School in Baltimore in 1944. She continued living and working at the Inn. With her mother leaving and her father busy at the packing house, she had the responsibility of the restaurant at a very young age.
In November 1956, she married Oscar “Sonny” Schulz. He retired as Captain of his fishing charter boat “The Maverick” to open with Betty the newly built Fisherman’s Inn on May 11, 1971. They had outgrown the old restaurant due to increased business after the first Bay Bridge opened in July 1952. This new Inn was completely destroyed by fire 9 years later on December 22, 1980. It was rebuilt and opened again on July 28, 1981, seating 270 people today plus 2 additional dining areas for private parties.
In 1972, they also purchased the adjoining A.C. Harris Packing House. They remodeled it in July 1991, keeping the front as a seafood market and the back on the water, opening seasonally, as the Fisherman’s Crab Deck.
Betty enjoyed traveling, first driving across country to California with her mother in 1954. She felt lucky in later years to travel to Hawaii and Japan, to vacation in Jamaica, Mexico and countries in Europe, especially to visit friends in England and Germany.
She supported Sonny’s idea to put a train track around the restaurant ceiling in 1994, which has been a hit with the children (and men!). They’ve also been proud of the collection of oyster plates – all lost in the fire but now totaling over 400.
Her last achievement, of which she was most proud, was the unexpected success of her cookbook. It was first published in June 2005 and has now sold over 6,000 copies. It has been popular because of the inclusion of a little local history and a few memorable old photographs. It is sold only at the Inn and copies have been ordered and mailed all over the country.
In addition to Sonny, she is survived by three sons: Andy and his companion, Therese, Jody and his wife, Sheri, and Tracy and his wife, Stacey; seven grandsons: Dusty, Kirby, Hunter, Kolby, Holden, Dorsey and Harrison; a step granddaughter, Mallory Buellis; a step-great-granddaughter, Mia Spiegel; and a brother, Harold Thomas and his wife, Jean.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department, 1610 Main Street, Chester, MD 21619.