BILL SCHMIDT

BILL SCHMIDT
Bill, age 9, in a photo with his family

While widely known in Jacksonville as the quintessential hometown boy who grew up surrounded by lifelong friends and family in Venetia and Ortega, Bill Schmidt was born in Ocala, Florida where his father was serving as a WWII Army Air Corps Flight Instructor. It was when the war ended that Christine and Gert Schmidt brought their son to Jacksonville. Gert (a graduate of Cornell University Hotel School) had accepted the position of General Manager of the George Washington Hotel. Bill’s first home was the hotel’s penthouse. His swing set was on the hotel roof and Chester, the head bellman, enjoyed walking the toddler on the sidewalks of downtown Jacksonville.

Bill, age 4

Bill, age 4

Their first home was in Fairfax Manor, where Bill’s first buddy was next-door neighbor Marky Jackson. In 1949, when Bill was five, the family moved into a 1925 English Tudor home in Venetia, then considered out in the country. “Burma Weller had her horse fenced in her side yard on Timuquana Road and she used to ride through the neighborhood,” Bill recalls, noting that there was limited garbage service and the Wesconnett Voluntary Fire House Auxiliary, where his dad volunteered, was on call for emergencies.

Few people remember names, faces, places and events going all the way back to kindergarten, but Bill Schmidt does. In fact, many of his schoolmates from Mrs. Archibald’s Kindergarten on Edgewood Avenue Circle continue to be in Bill’s circle of friends. Among the kindergarten alumni who remain in close proximity are Charlene Boggs Hughes, Cynthia Craig Bliss, Michael Hughes, Downing Nightingale, Claudia Hart Mally, Louise Baker Daleen, and Tommy Sadler. Dee Ramsay Burnett was May Queen that year and Bill was her “knight in shining armor on his trusty steed” (broom stick and sock horsey).

Bill and his brothers, Kent and Jack, attended Venetia Elementary School No. 68, which was so close that they walked home for lunch from 1st grade on. Youngest brother Bobby started at Stockton because the family had moved to Ortega Forest Drive by the time he was two. The St. John’s River was nearby, too, and Bill and his cohorts fished often from his 8-foot pram with the three-horsepower Evinrude “kicker,” thereby beginning his lifelong love of fishing.  Recently, on a 4th of July fishing outing with family on the St. John’s River, Bill helped his grandsons reel in and release several 40-pound redfish.

A 1962 graduate of Lee High School who went on to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with several others in his class (Mike Hoyt, Hap Stewart, Graham Allen, Ray Rodgers, Bobby Martin, Bobby Sharp, Tiger Fehr, John Brewer, Lane Fulenwider and Tommy Christy), Bill Schmidt is now semi-retired from a long and successful career in advertising and public relations. As one of Lee High School’s most devoted alumni, Bill chaired the 20th, 30th and 40th reunions, demonstrating strong leadership qualities that he attributes to lessons learned when he in the 5th grade at Venetia Elementary No. 68.

“Back then, the school board initiated a pilot leadership development program to identify potential 5th graders to be chosen as 6th grade school boy patrols,” Bill remembers. “I was chosen and was in awe serving with the likes of leaders like Ed “EJ” Johnson (now known as “Killer” because of his golf game!).”  While in 5th grade patrol leadership training, Bill took his first “date,” 4th grader Peggy Paul Bryan, to the annual school boy patrol dance at the Armory.  And, speaking of dancing, along with many other 6th graders in Venetia and Ortega, Bill was enrolled in Mrs. Faye’s Ballroom Dance Class in Ortega Village, where they learned foxtrot, jitterbug and waltz, but bopping was NOT allowed!

Bill was attending Lake Shore Junior High School when he “rocked, but did not bop” with Dee Dee Nesbitt Griffin at his surprise 13th birthday party. As a 7th grader, he was one of the “munchkins” invited by Mildred Thurmond to her 9th grade sister Maryanne’s Sunday Dance Party at the Ortega Pier. As it turned out, that was the last dance held there, as the pier was soon condemned by the City.

Bill as a member of Lee High Football team

Bill as a member of Lee High Football team

At age 14, as one of the Boy Scouts in Troop 26, Bill matriculated to an Explorer Post.  He had earned 18 merit badges, but needed 21 to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout. “My father, in his wisdom and strict German manner, insisted that I complete the requirements to become an Eagle Scout before I could get my driver’s license,” recalls Bill. “To this day, I’m grateful to him.”

Acquiring their driver’s licenses meant that “The Big Five” (Mike Hoyt, Tony Sexton, Tommy Tillis, Jerry Patterson and Bill Schmidt) could carpool to Lee High School every morning and pile into Gert Schmidt’s classic turquoise and white Edsel for date nights at the Normany Drive-In Theater, drive to the Sandwich Inn on Riverside, A&W Root Beer on the Southside and enjoy Frosties at Penny Burgers on St. John’s Avenue.

Bill’s high school sweetheart was the popular Sandra Johnston (nicknamed “Fireball”) who later became his wife and the mother of his sons, Bill, Jr. and John. Sadly, after 27 years of marriage, Sandra Schmidt passed away in 1991. Soon thereafter, on a blind date that Bill calls a “God-wink,” he met his wife, Mary Dudley Childers Schmidt. They have been married for 19 years.

Inspired by his late mother, Christine, an accomplished artist, Bill took up the paint brush late in life and discovered that he had inherited some of her artistic ability. In 2010, he and artist Carole Mehrtens co-founded the Jacksonville Artists Guild with regular speakers, member juried shows and community art projects, now 130 members strong.

A sentimental man whose friends and family mean the world to him, Bill Schmidt will sometimes pick up a paint brush in his Algonquin Avenue studio loft and pause…memories will momentarily dance across the blank canvas, taking him back to the way things used to be.  “Life was good then,” muses the Ortega artist. “And it’s good now.”

Mary Dudley and Bill

Mary Dudley and Bill

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