PASADENA, Cal. – This was an ideal match, vertically and vocationally.
“As soon as I saw Erin, I said, ‘That’s who I’m going to marry,’” Ben Schroeder said.
So, of course, he did. Two weeks later, they were engaged … six months later, they were married … and a couple decades after that, they have their own reality show.
“Heartland Docs, DVM,” Saturdays on Nat Geo Wild, isn’t one of those opposites-attract shows The Schroeders have the same occupation (veterinarians), hobby (renovating old buildings) and size.
He’s either 6-foot-4 (his version) or 6-5 (hers); she’s 6-3. They both played high school basketball and she went on to play at Syracuse, where she was stymied by knee surgeries.
Then it was on to the Kansas State veterinary program, where she quickly spotted Ben. “I had noticed the cute red-hat guy,” she said.
Ben, addicted to University of Nebraska University caps when he’s not wearing a Stetson, soon approached. Then came marriage and minor adjustments.
First for Ben, who was already in his third year of vet school. “Waiting for Erin to graduate, I got a job” in a nearby animal hospital, he said. It was a glimpse of a vet world that’s “a lot more structured, (with) 15 to 20-minute appointments.”
Then it was change for Erin. They were moving to the vet practice his dad started in Hartington, Neb.
Which is where, exactly? It’s “not near anything,” she said. “We serve South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska, (putting) 50,000 miles a year” on a pick-up truck.
Far from the structure of 15-minute appointments, they sometimes find themselves getting out of bed at 2 a.m., for a farm emergency. That’s the life he’s always known, as the oldest of five country kids. “I was going out on calls with my dad when I was 2 or 3 years old.”
They always head out together, they said. Ben may be particularly good at large animals, Erin at human contacts. “She is the most comforting person you’ve ever met,” he said.
She grew up near Lake Placid, NY, but has thrown herself into Hartington, a town of 1,500. In their spare time – yes, they have spare time — they’ve restored an old store and a 103-year-old hotel.
Their life changed, Ben said, with a newspaper article about them. “It said, ‘These guys are the next Chip and Joanna (Gaines).’”
That’s the Texas couple that has turned renovation into a TV, magazine and book business. Soon, producers were contacting them; some wanted a renovation show, but the vet side prevailed.
“Nat Geo Wild has built a lot of our success from shows featuring vets,” said Janet Van Vissering, the network’s senior vice-president. These people offer “real, heartfelt stories …. They are really, truly heroes in their community.”
On this particular day, the Schroeders sort of wished they were back home. Their son, who’s 6-foot-5 (“so far,” Ben adds) had a basketball game, starting as a sophomore.
The game didn’t go well. (The high school, with only 148 students in six grades, was playing a school two divisions larger.) Neither did the weather.
The Schroeders were nestled into an upscale hotel. Back home?
“We’re in a blizzard warning, with minus-17 (temperatures) and seven inches of snow,” Erin said. On days like that, the country-vet life doesn’t sound all that enviable.
– “Heartland Docs, DVM,” 10 p.m. ET Saturdays, Nat Geo Wild, rerunning at 1 a.m.
– Debuts Jan. 25, preceded by another vet show (“The Incredible Dr. Pol”) from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.