Thomas Schilli, Midwest trucking innovator, passes

Tn obituary

A man who expanded the trucking company his father founded and who was involved in the trucking industry at the state and national levels has passed. 

Thomas Raymond Schilli, age 74, of Bonita Springs, Florida died Tuesday, April 13, at his home in Bonita Springs with his family. Thomas died from a rare form of cancer he had fought for over 13 years.

Schilli was born on June 3, 1946, in St. Louis, to Laura Catherine and Bernard Raymond Schilli. He grew up in St. Genevieve, Missouri, until he was in middle school when his family relocated to St. Louis. Schilli graduated from St. Louis University High School in 1964. He attended Marquette University and St. Louis University and served in the Marine Corps.  

In 1961, his father, Bernard, founded Schilli Motor Lines, Inc. Thomas purchased Schilli Motor Lines and relocated the business to Delphi, Indiana, in 1969. Schilli began his career operating six tractors and a small group of owner-operators that were leased to Schilli Motor Lines, Inc.

The company quickly grew and was relocated in 1973 to Remington, Indiana, due to the ease of Interstate 65 between Indianapolis and Chicago. In 1972, a relationship was forged between United States Gypsum and Schilli Motor Lines, which led to the first terminal in Shoals.

As Schilli began to purchase more tractors and reduced the number of owner-operators he worked with, the difficulty of hiring professional truck drivers became clear. However, his solution was to give drivers time at home with their families on the weekends.

After deregulation, Schilli began the development of a flatbed trailer that would allow a load capacity of 56,000 pounds versus the standard of 48,000 pounds. In the late 1990’s, Schilli began a new company, Schilli Distribution Services, a warehousing operation that provided from assembly line to delivery to retailers worldwide operation.

In early 2017, Schilli felt a merger with Daeske, Inc., would result in a bright future for the companies he had built and a continuation of his legacy. In May of 2017, a merger was completed between Daeske, Inc., and Schilli Transportation Services, Inc., Schilli Distribution Services, Schilli National Lease, and Schilli Specialized which included 365 tractors with a combination of 750 flatbeds and vans.

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In 2018, Thomas won the Truck Fleet Innovators award for what he had contributed over his career of 50 years from ultralight trailers, to the concept of home on the weekends for drivers, and his “tiered” program for training the next generation of technicians with Schilli National Lease.  

With over 50 years in transportation, Schilli was a member and served within the Indiana Motor Truck Association, Indiana Carrier Advisory Board, American Trucking Association, as well as the Truckload Carriers Association. The Truckload Carriers Association was where Thomas funneled endless hours of service over his lifetime including being 1988-1989 chairman of the organization. Schilli Motor Lines/Schilli Transportation Services was a 2010 Ambassador recipient due to their 50 years of commitment to the Truckload Carriers Association.

The pursuit of education was something Schilli held dear and he was involved in the development of the Truckload Carriers Association Scholarship Fund. Member carriers of the TCA are encouraged to have their employees' children and grandchildren apply for scholarships to help them pursue higher education.  

Schilli attended St. Mary’s Cathedral in Lafayette, Indiana, as well as St. John’s the Evangelist Catholic Church in Naples, Florida.  

One of his final projects was the establishment of the Thomas R. Schilli Foundation, which will focus on providing St. Louis area students the funding needed to pursue higher learning to equip them with skills to end the cycle of poverty.  

Schilli is survived by his wife, Cheryl Schilli, of Bonita Springs, Florida; his daughters, Laura Schilli Holcomb and husband Joseph, of Crockett, Texas, and Joyce Schilli of Crockett, Texas; granddaughter Ann Rodriguez and husband Michael, of Nacogdoches, Texas, grandson William Holcomb and wife Graycie, of Huntsville, Texas; grandsons Thomas and Steven Barclay, of Crockett, Texas; stepsons Nicolas and wife Jazmyn Wallace, of Cleveland, Tennessee, and Christopher Wallace and son, Sother, of Noblesville, Indiana. He is also survived by his sister, Judith Stecher, of St. Louis, and his brother, Robert Schilli, of St. Louis, as well as numerous nieces and nephews.  

He was preceded in death by his parents Bernard Raymond and Laura Catherine Schilli and his niece, Anne Marie Stecher Skoff.

Thomas Raymond Schilli’s Celebration of Life will be on Thursday, April 29, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., at Bob and Connie’s Restaurant, 38 N. Railroad Street, in Remington, Indiana.

Visitation will be held on Friday, April 30, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., at Bopp Chapel Funeral Home, 10610 Manchester Road, Kirkwood, Missouri 63122. Memorial Mass will be held on May 1, at 3 p.m., at St. Louis University High School Chapel, 4970 Oakland Ave., in St. Louis. A private burial will occur at Resurrection Cemetery, in St. Louis.   

Memorials may be given to the Thomas R. Schilli Foundation, 326 Oak Tree Dr., St. Louis, MO 63119, or the TCA Scholarship Fund, Thomas Schilli Scholarship c/o Truckload Carriers Association, P.O. Box 76026, Baltimore, MD 21275-6036.