People knew him as “The Klute” before they even knew his first name.
But people didn’t need to know his name to know Bernard “The Klute” Schober as the tall, boisterous, shark-loving, fiercely kind man he was.
While Schober was hiking Piestewa Peak in Phoenix on July 18, he called 911. After being found unresponsive, he was pronounced dead at HonorHealth John C. Lincoln Medical Center due to heart complications. He was 49.
“I was in the middle of planning his 50th birthday party and now I’m planning his memorial,” Schober’s friend Lauren Perry said.
Perry and many more members of the metro Phoenix poetry community are reeling after Schober’s death.
Schober was a regular at several local poetry slams across the Valley, from Fair Trade Coffee to the now-closed Essenza Coffee House. He was a familiar face in the local poetry scene and a nationally acclaimed slam poet with more than a dozen published poetry books.
But his work and spirit of generosity live on, his friends said, who will gather for a private memorial service on Aug. 13.
“We are all completely devastated but if there was one thing that Klute appreciated about his close friends is that he knew we would find the humor, we would find the love at his memorial service,” Jessica Ballantyne-Keller said. “There will be laughter. There will be a lot of sharing stories and secret Klute stories because we all have some.”
Who was ‘The Klute’?
From the moment Schober moved to the Valley from West Palm Beach, Florida, in the early 2000s, he was on stage at Essenza, a popular poetry joint in Mesa.
On a particular summer evening in 2003, Schober commanded the coffee house stage in his big, black trench coat. The room was captivated, as was Perry, who remembered meeting him that night.
“He asked me for a cigarette and someone said, ‘Don’t give him a cigarette. Now he’s going to ask you for a cigarette forever.’ We were best friends after that night,” Perry said.
Ballantyne-Keller also befriended Schober at Essenza after a poetry slam.
He was the type of friend who showed up to every birthday party from the day he knew you. The type of friend who asked questions about how someone was doing and cared about the answers. And the person who would belt Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” just to put a smile on your face.
Perry, Ballantyne-Keller and Schober would travel across the country, from that point on, for poetry competitions in places including Texas, Minnesota, Colorado and Utah.
Another friend, Bill Campana, celebrated Schober’s generosity. In his free time, Schober hosted poetry events at schools, introducing children to the literary art.
Schober was generous with his friends, with his time. Campana recalled the weekly Saturday morning coffees they had for 21 years. Campana also remembered him as generous with his money from him.
“I can list probably four people who owe him money right now,” Campana said, laughing. “He was just that kind of person.”
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Schober’s life wasn’t in his work. It was in his passions
Schober had a full-time job as an IT consultant at Blue Fox Group. But his friends of him could not really speak to that, really.
His best friends hardly knew what he did – they just knew he liked his job just enough but loved his co-workers. And his co-workers loved him, too, so much so that there will be a plaque at his office space in his honor, Campana said.
His passions weren’t in his 9-to-5, though, Campana said. Work funded his dreams and adventures across the Valley, the United States and even across the world whether it was for poetry competitions or scuba diving.
Poetry was one of his joys. It’s what he was known for across the Valley, and across the country as he competed in Phoenix National Teams for five years, the Mesa Slam National teams for three years and was awarded the titles like “Grand Slam Champion” and “Slam Team Champion” throughout the years of competing.
“He was the loudest person in the room,” Ballantyne-Keller said. “You never needed to mic him. You could see in his movement of him and his annunciation of him the point he was trying to get across. There was never a hidden meaning to anything that he ever performed. He felt every single period, every pause, every semicolon, every gesture. And he felt them deeply.”
His poetry was almost always funny, whether he mocked Arizona for its blaring temperatures or performed from the perspective of a shark or wrote about voodoo priests going to New Orleans or Canadians battling Americans with polar bears.
“He didn’t write poems to get good points,” Perry said. “He wrote because they inspired him and moved him to perform it. That’s what made him a really great poet.”
On the side, he’d write reviews for shows and movies for Nerdvana, a Phoenix-based blog that covers sci-fi and fantasy news, Perry said, laughing. She remembered a time the two walked the red carpet for a movie premiere event together.
“He was funny,” Campana, Perry and Ballantyne-Keller all said, again and again.
“And a bombastically politically left poet,” Ballantyne-Keller added, laughing.
Schober made the most of his life
Schober loved sharks. He was a conservationist at his core, sending plastic straws back with servers at restaurants and picking up trash at every beach he visited.
23 years ago, Schober began traveling to scuba dive and see ocean life.
Each year checked a new place off his list. Schober had dived in 15 places all around the world including Cozumel, The Maldives, St. Lucia and Cape Town. His diving from him picked up over the last decade as he faced escalating heart problems, Campana said.
“Ever since I had known him, he was always trying to make the most out of his life,” Perry said.
He did just that—only with less time than anyone hoped.
“He was such a good person and it blows my mind knowing how much good he had done, and I keep thinking about all the good he was going to,” Ballantyne-Keller said. “We lost someone who was a huge, huge resource for the environment, for ocean life, for literacy and for poetry.
“I haven’t known a lot of good people, and the people that I do know, the people I keep close to me, are good people. That word has a lot of meaning and he was one of them. He’s irreplaceable.”
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Instagram @sofia.krusmark