From Missouri to Montserrat to Minneapolis

Alumna Schroer’s Legal Background Bolsters Varied Career as Paralegal Program Director, Scuba-Diving Business Owner, and Acquisitions Editor 

Not all law school students enter private practice after graduation. Some go into government work. Others become legal counsel for corporations. Still others work in the nonprofit sector. Then there’s Melody Schroer, JD ’87.

Though her current position as an acquisitions editor for West Academic Publishing sounds conventional enough, it caps a 20-year occupational odyssey that took her from Missouri’s capital to the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat.

Along the way she created a paralegal education program, survived a shipwreck, and helped run a scuba-diving business.

Schroer’s first job out of law school was as a hearing examiner for the Missouri Public Service Commission—the state agency that regulates, among other things, the state’s utility companies. She then moved back to St. Louis, where she worked on child support cases for the St. Charles County Prosecutor. She also worked as a contract attorney on a big project for Monsanto.

Creating a Legacy

However, a return to her undergraduate alma mater, Maryville University, led to the lasting legacy of the first leg of her career—Maryville’s ABA-approved Paralegal Education Program. “I had always stayed in touch with Maryville, especially with the now late political science professor Marshall King,” Schroer says.

After working as director of planned giving in the school’s Institutional Advancement office and taking some part-time and full-time teaching jobs at area business colleges, she got a call from King in 1996. Would she be interested in creating a paralegal program at the Maryville? “I was director of paralegal studies from 1997 to 2005,” she recalls. “I thought of it as ‘my program’ at Maryville, and I’m still very proud of it.”

Then came the day her husband, Troy, said, “Let’s move to the Caribbean and open a scuba-diving business.”

“I had accomplished my professional goal of starting the paralegal program and earning tenure at Maryville,” she explains. “I was ready to embark on my next ‘five-year plan.’”

After determining that their ideal location, St. Kitts, would be too expensive, the couple started looking at other Caribbean islands. During a vacation on Antigua in 2003, they took a side trip to Montserrat.

“We had to travel by ferry because the airport had been destroyed by the volcano,” Schroer recalls, referring to the 1995 eruptions of the Soufrière Hills volcano that destroyed the capital city of Plymouth. As a result of the eruptions and continued volcanic activity, the southern half of the island, designated the “Exclusion Zone,” is illegal to enter.

“My first impression was that I didn’t want to live there because there would be nothing to do,” Schroer remembers. “But I fell in love with the island, and the homes were affordable. So we decided to open what would become the Green Monkey Dive Shop and Bar.”

Though a new airport opened on the northern half of the island in 2005—breathing new life into Montserrat’s tourist industry—to actually run the dive shop, Schroer and her husband still needed one essential item—a boat.

“In the summer of 2005, Troy bought a boat on eBay. Our plan was to fly to Florida, ship the boat to Puerto Rico, and then pilot it to Montserrat,” she says.

Surviving a Shipwreck

Then things got interesting. “The boat broke down between Puerto Rico and St. Croix, so we had a choice—go back to Puerto Rico, or continue on to St. Croix, where we were advised to just kick back, relax, and enjoy the Christmas holiday until we could repair the boat,” she remembers.

After selling off some of their scuba equipment and borrowing money from friends to pay for the boat repairs, the intrepid couple resumed their journey to Montserrat. But 12 hours into the trip from St. Croix to Saba, a hole developed in the bottom of the boat.

“We modified one of the engines to pump water out of the boat, sent up a flare, and put out an S.O.S. A fishing boat from Saba came to our rescue and tried to tow the boat,” she says. “At about 2 a.m., with our boat still taking on water, we got into the dinghy in very rough seas and got to the fishing boat. The boat’s crew cut our boat loose, and we watched it sink.”

Safely arrived at Saba, the couple were next rescued by Schroer’s mother who paid for their hotel stay and plane tickets to Montserrat. They also benefitted from the kindness of their cab driver, who asked if they were the couple whose boat had sank. When they said yes, he wouldn’t take their money for their fare to the airport.

Except for an eruption of the volcano that forced them to evacuate their Montserrat home for seven months, life returned to “normal.” They opened the Green Monkey, and Schroer’s husband secured a grant and government contract to map the dive sites, giving a boost to their business.

Meanwhile, Schroer took a job as assistant to the CEO of the company charged with rebuilding Plymouth. She put her legal training to work, writing a staff manual and code of ethics for the company and writing grants to secure funding for businesses wanting to locate on the island.

Over time though, the ambitious Schroer found herself missing city life and frustrated by the slow pace on Montserrat. She secured the acquisitions editor position at West, and the couple moved to Minneapolis.

Thinking back to her law school days, Schroer fondly remembers Professors David Becker and Stephen Legomsky, “the type of professors who were always available and always had their doors open,” she says. “Professor Legomsky helped me to secure my first part-time legal position with an immigration attorney while I was in law school.”

Inspired by Becker, Legomsky, and Marshall King, today she says her next adventure may be a return to the classroom. “They made me want to be the kind of teacher whose primary concern is the welfare and academic success of her students,” she says.

- By Timothy J. Fox