Herb met Janette Ramstad, the daughter of a gold and tin miner, at Central Lutheran Church in Fairbanks while he was stationed at nearby Elmendorf Air Force Base in 1959. They married, had a couple of kids and built a home hard by the Arctic Circle in the willowy foothills of the Chugach Mountains. "You get a different sense of time here than on the Upper West Side," says Herb. Winter has brief spells of daylight; summer, brief spells of night. Janette would tell Mark to come inside when it got dark. "I'd look at my watch and it would be midnight,"' Mark says, "and I'd think, I've got lots of time."
The Schlereths aren't the sort of closet highbrows you sec on Northern Exposure. Their bookshelves aren't jammed with the works of Kant and Kierkegaard. Herb couldn't read above the fourth-grade level until he was 19. "Janette taught me," he says. "I'm dyslexic, just like Mark."
As a child Mark could distinguish individual words, but sentences became a hopeless jumble. "Nothing was more frustrating than trying to read," he says. "And nothing was more frightening than having to read aloud." He still winces at the memory of a seventh-grade teacher who told him to read from a newspaper in front of the class.
"I'd rather not," said Mark.
Mark mumbled a few words.
"Sit down, Schlereth!" barked the teacher. "You're stupid!"
Young Mark lowered his head, sat down and told himself he was stupid. That assessment was shared by a few of his classmates, who teased him and called him names. Schlereth figures that's why he got so good at football. He would never punch out perpetrators on the playground. "I'd get even on the football field," he says. "If someone made fun of me, I'd run over him during recess."
Polite and well-behaved, he charmed his way through grade school and hid his reading problem for years—partly by cheating, he says. He prepped for spelling tests by writing words on a sheet of paper. "At test time," he says, "I'd trace over the words." He pulled this oil' until eighth grade, when a teacher finally realized Mark was reading at a first-grade level. Placed in a special class, he improved. And though he eventually got a football scholarship to Idaho, his reading was limited to defenses. "I'm ashamed to say I read only one textbook in college," he says. (It was for Business Management 301.) "Professors would usually say that 85 percent of a class is on the notes, 15 percent on the book. So I'd tell myself, I'm going to be in class every day and take good notes and listen. If I ace that part, I'll at least get a B."
The strategy worked. Mark graduated with a liberal arts degree and a 2.9 average. But injuries had forced his football career to skid into the snowbanks. The surgical scars on his knees look like an old prospecting map of the Northwest Territory. Mark says he had to give up football after his junior year because the Idaho coaches were fearful of a liability suit. But Keith Gilbertson, then the Vandals' coach, says now his only concern was for Mark's health, and he allowed Mark to return to the team the following fall. Mark spent the summer of '88 reconditioning his knees, then won back his starting job and helped Idaho to an 11-2 record.