The Passing of #7405 Willie Schmidt
Dear Member of the Camp Dudley Family:
With the passing of William J. “Willie” Schmidt #7405, Dudley has lost one of its most passionate advocates and tireless workers. With Lois and family at his side, Willie died last evening in Elizabethtown, New York. A Memorial Service to celebrate Willie’s life was held on Sunday, August 24th at 10 a.m. in the Camp Dudley Chapel.
Few in Dudley’s history have had the impact on Camp that Willie has. Yet his lifetime relationship with Camp might never have happened. His old coach at Mineola High School in Long Island, Ken “Dutch” Hafner, had asked another boy to go to Dudley. When that boy wavered, Willie shot up his hand and said, “I’ll go Coach!” Thus began a 62-year relationship with Camp.
Willie started on the Kitchen Crew in 1946 “for a dollar a day,” but caught Chief Beckman and Bob Marshall’s eye, becoming a Leader in 1948. When Bob’s successor, Rollie Stichweh, wanted an A-Hut Director, he immediately contacted his old Mineola friend Schmidt, who returned to Camp in 1971. There was no question in Stich’s mind that Willie could eventually lead Camp Dudley, and Dudley’s Board of Managers agreed, naming Willie Director in 1974. (Quipped Willie, “It was a close vote!”) He would serve in that role until 1994, when he and Lois were named “CDA Couple of the Year.”
Said Stich, “We needed a person with unique skills and abilities to continue the tradition of Dutch Hafner and others in the A-Hut, and Willie was it!” When I recommended Willie to the Board as the new Director, I knew that he would provide a special brand of leadership for this special place.” And, indeed, a special place Dudley continued to be.
Willie could pack more fun into a day than most of us could in a year. In a place where campers are encouraged not to take themselves too seriously, Willie set the bar high. One “down-in-the-dumps” camper told Willie that his trunk had failed to arrive on opening day. Willie responded with, “C’mon kid, we’re going to the lost and found.” Completely outfitted, the camper barely noticed the arrival of his trunk six weeks later.
In 1974, the new Director delighted in reaching out to Dudley alumni and recruiting youngsters from far and near. From 1975 to 1984, Willie doubled the number of Reunions, extending Dudley’s reach to places like Ireland and St. Maarten. (When the business manager complained about expenses, Willie said, “You can’t find kids like this in America!”) With his antics and attention to personal detail, Willie’s slide show became a “one-man-show” with the Director’s rapid-fire delivery and witty quips. This surge in both the number of Reunions, and attendance at them, resulted in renewed alumni interest in the camp and increased financial support.
There were issues at Dudley about which Willie felt deeply. It was under Willie’s directorship that the role of women at Dudley was defined and embraced. In 1974, there were eight female staff members in jobs in the kitchen, office and infirmary. By 1976, there were 16 women in roles all over campus, and eventually in every program area at Dudley. Women worked at Swim Point, on the tennis courts, in Witherbee, at the Rifle Range, in the Archery Glen, in Brodie, and on the athletic fields. Women began to appear on stage, to lead hikes and to give Chapel Talks. Before Willie, women sparingly received Camp numbers, but with Willie, receiving a Camp number became routine for women staff members.
By far his biggest contribution, and lasting legacy, is the dramatic expansion of the scholarship program, appropriately re-named “the William J. Schmidt Annual Scholarship Fund” in 2004. When Willie took over as Director in 1974 Annual Giving stood at $25,000 per year. When he retired twenty years later, it had reached $250,000 per year. Thousands of boys had the joy of a Camp Dudley experience, thanks to Willie’s insistence on “opening the place up.” A legendary recruiter, Willie said, “I can tell if a kid is Dudley material in a minute,” which he frequently did, offering astonished boys he had just met at an airport a scholarship.
Willie graduated from East Stroudsburg State Teachers College in Pennsylvania studying physical education. He then pursued a degree in physical therapy, enrolling at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. Also studying there was young Lois Parsons, and she and Willie hit it off, embarking on a lifetime together. A history buff, Willie also earned an M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, as well as a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina. Attracted to education and coaching, Willie began a teaching career at the Tilton School in Tilton, New Hampshire in 1964, then Wayland Academy, in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin in 1970. Willie touched many young lives through his career as a teacher and coach at the above institutions, and later, for a distinguished decade, at the Asheville School, in Asheville, North Carolina.
Members of the family surviving Willie include Lois #16000, his wife of 54 years, sons Steve #10875, Doug #10874, Ed #11260, Don #12993 and daughter Beth #13405, as well as 9 grandchildren.
The family has requested that donations in Willie’s name go to the William J. Schmidt Scholarship Fund at Camp Dudley, 126 Dudley Road, Westport, NY 12993, or to High Peaks Hospice, PO Box 192, Port Henry, NY 12974. Lois can be reached at PO Box 248, Westport, NY 12993, or through the Camp Office.