Columbus remembers the life of Alice Schmidt
Carolyn Fredericks recalls fondly the first time she met Alice Schmidt.
Fredericks and her family moved to downtown Columbus nearly 30 years ago. Schmidt was one of the first neighbors to greet her and it didn’t take long for her to leave an impression on Fredericks.
“She was very emotional and in tears,” Fredericks said. “She was crying and just so happy that a young family had moved into a neighborhood that has these beautiful old homes. She was pleased that we were going to restore the home and raise a family there; just so excited to see that.”
Fredericks wasn’t the only person Schmidt touched in her 87 years. Through work in several civic, educational and church groups, Schmidt made lasting connections throughout Columbus. Schmidt passed away Sept. 19 at her home.
Schmidt grew up in Columbus and while she taught for a period in southeastern Wisconsin, spent most of her time in the city she loved.
“She touched so many lives through all the different organizations she was in,” Fredericks said. “With every organization she was in, she just went from one to the other and just gave it her all.”
City Administrator Patrick Vander Sanden referred to Schmidt as the “grandmother of Columbus.” She carried a warm, caring personality and she desired to make her city better. Schmidt was involved in the city’s cemetery board, restoration of the Hasey Popcorn Wagon, Columbus Community Hospital Board, Columbus Garden Club, Wisconsin Retired Educators Association, Historical Landmarks and Preservation Commission, Olivet Church, Mindfulness Matters, and the Columbus/Fall River Food Pantry. Schmidt was also the city’s historian.
“When it came down to anything about Columbus, she was accommodating,” said Liz O’Donnell. “Columbus was in her heart and soul.”
Schmidt attended the Columbia County Normal School, once located in Columbus, and earned her teaching license. Prior to that, O’Donnell said Schmidt longed to be a lawyer, but it didn’t work out.
“But she was very content on being a teacher,” O’Donnell said. “What I find remarkable is she still kept in touch with many of the students she taught years after she retired.”
Schmidt was an avid letter writer. Tuesday was her letter-writing day and she spent hours catching up with former students, family and friends the old fashioned way, with pen and paper.
O’Donnell knew Schmidt for more than 15 years. They served on Columbus School Board together and bonded quickly. O’Donnell remembers a trip to Stevens Point with Schmidt for a state school board conference.
“I didn’t know this older woman, she never married, never had kids, but we spent more than three hours in the car and we just clicked, we connected,” O’Donnell said.
While she never had children of her own, Schmidt was a stout advocate for children and public education. O’Donnell said when Schmidt made up her mind to do something, she did it. She wasn’t one to give up easily. O’Donnell also said her friend was very accepting and open-minded.
“I really appreciated that about Alice,” O’Donnell said. “She was not a meek, mild person. When she felt strongly for something, she wasn’t afraid to articulate her point.”
During her time on the school board, Schmidt worked with former Superintendent Mark Jansen to create a four-year-old Kindergarten. While the move was scrutinized by the community, Columbus’ 4K program remains strong several years later.
When she wasn’t involved in group activities, Schmidt was often cooking in her kitchen or tending to her vast rose garden. Schmidt often brought roses to neighbors and businesses in downtown Columbus.
“She grew such beautiful roses but she never kept them to herself,” Fredericks said. “She always gave them to other people.”
To honor Schmidt, Columbus is planning a celebration of three of her favorite things: soup, popcorn and beer.
The event is scheduled for Oct. 28 at the Columbus Senior Center, 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Fredericks said Schmidt made delicious homemade soup and enjoyed cold Miller High Life. The celebration also remembers Schmidt’s dedication to preserving the historic popcorn wagon.
“Ask anybody around, Alice made the best homemade soup and it was all from scratch, even the noodles,” Fredericks said. “She often spent days making soup in her kitchen and donating it to fundraisers in town.”
Fredericks said more details will be released in coming weeks, but the event will be a fundraiser for groups Schmidt cared about.