By Michael Novak
Algoma Area Chamber of Commerce
Writer and photographer
Paul Schmidt has spent over a half century living in, working for, and serving the city of Algoma. For his dedication and service to his community, he has been chosen as this year’s Shanty Day honoree. But if you ask him why he’s being honored, he’ll jokingly tell you it’s “just because they were scraping the bottom of the barrel to find someone.” However, if you look at his life in Algoma, you can see why he has been given this honor.
Born in Algoma in 1939, Schmidt developed a strong work ethic early, working summers with Krueger Construction at age 14.
“When all the other kids were off playing for the summer, I was working with the men,” he recalls, laughing. He was driving truck for the company before he even had a driver’s license. Hard to imagine in today’s world, but the 14-year-old Schmidt was occasionally sent to the tavern to pick up pitchers of beer for the men at the end of a long day. During the school year in high school, Schmidt worked at the grocery store as well, making 50 cents per hour.
Upon graduating from Algoma High School in 1957, Schmidt started full time at Krueger’s and worked there for the next eight years.
“Everyone had fun working, and the boss was good to the guys,” he recalls of his time.
Then in 1965 he began working for the city of Algoma street work crew, a job which included garbage pickup, snow removal, sewer and street work. During one particularly bad storm in the winter of 1968, as the only snow plow operator in the city, he single-handedly plowed all the streets of the city, working for 46 hours straight. He says his wife called herself a “snow widow” in the winters, as he was often away keeping the streets cleared for the town. Schmidt worked for the city works for 38 years.
Also in 1965, Schmidt began his work with the Algoma Fire Department. As far as he knows, he is the only person in Algoma who has held every position within the department, starting as firefighter, working his way up to fire chief, from which he retired in 2004. As chief, Schmidt stressed teamwork and that we are all in it together. “I saw other chiefs from around the state that would talk about what ‘I did,’ never mentioning others in their departments. When I took over as chief, I told the officers that this department is a ‘we’ operation.”
In addition to working for the city and the Fire Department, Schmidt also was a charter member of the Algoma Jaycees Club in 1961, at age 22. At the time, the Jaycees ran the Toys for Tots charity and burned the Christmas trees for the city. “We had a competition with the Kewaunee Jaycees to see who could pick up the most Christmas trees. Whoever lost, had to pay for the luncheon for the day we burned the trees.”
While still in high school in 1956, he joined the Army reserves, serving in Battery B, 887 Field Artillery, and the unit still has reunions that he attends. He laughs, “It was fun, we’d go to parades, drink beer, talk smart. Not a lot’s changed.” Since retirement, he has been active with the Algoma AMVETS and the Honor Guard.
Schmidt has been an active member of St. John’s Church, teaching Sunday school and serving as superintendent of the Sunday school for over 25 years. He was also a chairman at the church for 3 terms.
When talking about the all years of service for the community, Schmidt says, “I don’t keep track of it all.” One can’t blame him, as his lifetime of work is extensive. Speaking to him at the Algoma Area Chamber of Commerce, where he volunteers, he says that nowadays it seems that “volunteerism is dead.” He hopes that he can be an example to others.
Schmidt has been married to his wife, Juanita, since 1965. He laughs when he tells people that “We’ve been married for 53 years. To each other still!” He says that his wife’s family didn’t really kid around like he does, and at first, they took him seriously when he made jokes. “But now, after 53 years, they’re starting to get my sense of humor.” Together they have four children – three sons and one daughter – who all live in the area. Sons Phillip and Tim have been trustees and members of various boards at St. Paul Church. Tim also works for the high school maintenance department. Youngest son Peter teaches at Algoma and is a coach of the girls’ basketball team. Daughter Tricia works for the county sheriff’s department. Schmidt says laughing, “Some people say “oh, you’re so lucky that your kids are so close.” Sometimes I wish they were 500 miles away.” Schmidt is a proud grandad of eight kids as well.
Schmidt still is making jokes, telling people he meets at the Chamber that his last name is an Irish name (despite it being quite German), just to see their reaction. He recently had a surgery, and while being prepped, he handed the surgeon a business card for the local funeral home, jokingly saying, “In case you’re not as good as you think you are, you know where to send me.” It’s this sense of humor that keeps him young at heart.
Mayor Wayne Schmidt, Paul’s half-brother, says “The tradition of the Shanty Days Honoree is someone that gives back to the community, someone that’s involved, and has gone above and beyond, and I think that Paul fits that very well. He’s the type of individual that goes out of his way to help people.”
For his lifetime of service to the community, Schmidt will have a prominent part in the Aug. 12 Shanty Days parade, as well as being hosted at the Mayor’s Honoree luncheon. The luncheon will be held at Hotel Stebbins on Friday, Aug. 11 at noon, where Paul will be given a key to the city of Algoma.