Paul Schmidt named Shanty Days Honoree
ALGOMA – Paul Schmidt has spent over a half century living in, working for, and serving the city. For his dedication and service to his community, he has been chosen as this year’s Shanty Days Honoree.
For his lifetime of service to the community, Schmidt will have a prominent part in the Shanty Days parade through downtown Algoma at noon Aug. 11, as well as being hosted at the Mayor's Honoree Luncheon at Hotel Stebbins at noon Aug. 10, where Schmidt will be given a key to the city.
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,” Schmidt 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 also 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 while in high school, Schmidt worked for 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 and worked there for the next eight years.
“Everyone had fun working, and the boss was good to the guys,” he said of his time there.
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. Schmidt worked for the city works for 38 years.
During one particularly bad storm in the winter of 1968, as the only snowplow operator in the city, he singlehandedly plowed all the streets of the city, working for 46 straight hours. He says his wife called herself a “snow widow” in the winters, as he was often away keeping the streets cleared for the town.
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 and working his way up to fire chief, from which he retired in 2004.
As chief, Schmidt stressed teamwork and togetherness.
“I saw other chiefs from around the state that would talk about what “I did,” never mentioning others in their departments," Schmidt said. "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 Fire Department, Schmidt 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," Schmiidt said. "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.
“It was fun. We’d go to parades, drink beer, talk smart," Schmidt said. "Not a lot's changed.” Since retirement, he has been active with the Algoma AmVets and Honor Guard.
Schmidt has been an active member of St. John's Lutheran Church, teaching Sunday school and serving as its superintendent for over 25 years. He was also a chairman at the church for three terms.
When talking about the all the years of service for the community, Schmidt says, "I don’t keep track of it all.” One can’t blame him — his lifetime of work is extensive and continues, as a volunteer at the Algoma Area Chamber of Commerce. He said that nowadays it seems that “volunteerism is dead,” but he hopes 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 said 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.”
Paul and Juanita have three sons and one daughter who all live in the area, along with eight grandchildren. Sons Phillip and Tim have been trustees and members of various boards at St. Paul's, and 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 still is making jokes, telling people he meets at the chamber that his last name is an Irish name just to see their reaction. He recently had 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.
“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," said Mayor Wayne Schmidt, Paul’s half-brother, "and I think that Paul fits that very well. He’s the type of individual that goes out of his way to help people.”
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Paul Schmidt named Shanty Days Honoree