"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Friday, July 8, 2016

Francis Schmidt ("Fritz") was gem of a person

(Pedersen FH photo)
Fritz Schmidt was the warming house attendant at the main street skating rink in the 1960s. Yes, there was a skating rink along our Atlantic Avenue back then. It was for recreational skating and not hockey. Hockey was a sport on the margins in those days. Kids of all ages came and enjoyed our facility.
Fritz enjoyed this type of commitment to the area's youth. He was very baseball-oriented. His son Steve, a fantastic lefthanded baseball pitcher, was two years older than me. That put him in the Morris High School Class of '71. Steve was widely thought to have pro potential as a pitcher. He threw with great velocity. The rarity of southpaw pitchers made him that much more confounding for batters. I remember watching him pitch like it was yesterday. He was held back by injury which I think he suffered lifting weights.
Fritz had a sister, Margaret, who was married to one of the town's photographers. Margaret was like a business partner for her husband Doug too. There were two town photographers: Doug Garberick and Walt Monroe. They were pillars of the community. I'm not sure how a professional photographer makes a living today, considering how people can handle their own photographic needs so well.
The Garbericks had their studio as part of their residence across from the court house. That house has been razed. The young musicians of Morris who were captivated by jazz loved Doug, an avid musician. Doug would take some of us kids, including his son Tom, to the Twin Cities for an occasional jazz/big band concert. Tom is a Buddy Rich-style drummer.
Walt Monroe had his studio where the Willie's parking lot is today. He too had a dynamic family.
My father formed a close friendship with Francis "Fritz" Schmidt. The two would talk for extended times at the skating rink warming house. Fritz was happy to step forward and volunteer for youth-centered activities. He had such an engaging personality and sense of humor.
I remember photographing Fritz on the morning after one of the most memorable Vikings football games ever. He wore a hat that had Viking horns protruding from the sides. I ran into Fritz at the main street restaurant where Riverwood Bank is today. The restaurant had three names through the years: Del Monico, Kelly's and Ardelle's. Fritz was celebrating the game where Ahmad Rashad made that miracle catch at the end, remember? I quoted Fritz saying "I fell off the davenport." We put the photo on page 1. Everyone who knew Fritz knew he was the perfect symbol for the kind of joy us fans felt.
My last image of Fritz was of him coming to our Morris Public Library where he was a very regular patron. He and I went out of our way to talk to each other. The aging process was creating some challenges for him, nevertheless he was the same old Fritz with a twinkle in his eye. We will all miss that so much.
Fritz was the gentle and easy-going type who reflected the traits of his generation: "The Greatest Generation." No one can stop the gradual exit of that unique and dedicated generation that defeated the Axis powers and was so happy to bring children into the world.
Fritz came into the world in 1920 on the family farm east of Morris. He was a lifelong devoted Catholic. He was a product of our country schools. You can get a taste of the country schools by visiting an authentic old building at the Stevens County Fair. I often think those schools had advantages.
Fritz's life changed in April of 1942 as Uncle Sam came calling. Fritz served as a sergeant in India and China. He was honorably discharged on November 14, 1945. He came back to his beloved family farm in America's heartland. He married his wife Madelyn in 1946. Father Fearon officiated.
Fritz would take over the farm from his father Henry who was a real patriarch. I remember Henry who lived to a quite advanced age. Fritz and Madelyn stayed on the farm until 2009 when they moved to Morris.
We remember Fritz very well as a devoted member of service organizations in Morris like the VFW, Legion, Eagles and Knights of Columbus. He built wooden butterflies and mailboxes.
Steve was one of four sons of Fritz and Madelyn. The others are Ray, Ron and Larry. Oh, and there are four daughters! Carol, Jan, Linda and Dar blessed the Schmidt marriage.
The story of Fritz in World War II was told in the book "The '40s, a Time for War and a Time for Peace," put out by the Stevens County Historical Society. The headline for Fritz's story is "V for Victory." Some dots and dashes of Morse code are also part of the headline. The book is at our public library. I'm sure Library Director Melissa Yauk will greatly miss seeing Fritz visit there.
Fritz passed away on July 5 at Stevens Community Medical Center. He was 96, the same age as my father when he passed. They can continue their repartee in heaven.
Funeral mass for Francis "Fritz" Schmidt is on Saturday, July 9, 2:30 p.m. at Assumption Catholic Church. Father Todd Schneider will officiate. In closing, I will quote Fritz's WWII story from the Stevens County Historical Society book. Here it is:
 
I entered the service April 26, 1942, and spent three and a half years in the Army Air Force. Our training began in Spokane, Washington, at Ft. George Wright. This is where we learned Morse code. Our salary was $26 a month. We then moved to Davis Montha Air Base in Tucson, Arizona. Then on to Stead Air Base at Reno, Nevada, still learning Morse and Japanese code. From there we shipped to Camp Stoneman, near Pittsburg, Caifornia. We were the 955 Radio Intelligence Squadron.
I then went overseas to Bombay, India, where we waited about a week for our equipment to arrive, but it had been sunk. We traveled overland by truck to Karachi. I got so much dust in my lungs from the roads that I got dust pneumonia. After about a month at Karachi, we traveled by train to Delhi and then on to Barikpur, north of Calcutta, where we stayed about two years. Spent the last seven months in China. I intercepted and copied Japanese code. Our transmissions were then decoded by our cryptographers, two mathematicians.
We had a squadron in Burma, India, and China, and with radio direction finders at each place, we were able to cross lines and find out where the signals came from. We were with the Flying Tigers, 14th Air Force.
I returned home November 14, 1945. Many years after the war ended, we heard that our work helped to shorten the war with Japan, which made me very proud.
 
Fritz Schmidt, RIP.
 
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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