Walt Schmidt, a community icon, passes


Colleen Slater, KP News

Walter Schmidt was born September 4, 1919, in Bismarck, North Dakota, and died on November 28, 2008, in Gig Harbor. Bertha, his wife of nearly 60 years, preceded him in death. He is survived by two sons, John and Fred, five grandchildren – Christine, Tyler, Jonathon, Hillary, and Bodie, and one great-grandson.

Schmidt moved with his family from North Dakota to Washington State as a young man, and graduated from Lincoln High School in Tacoma with Rhys Wood, another well-known KP personality.

He came from a German speaking family in his native Bismarck. After service in the army in World War II, he worked as a translator at a POW camp.

He attended Calvary Baptist Church in Tacoma, where he loved to sing in the choir. The church sponsored some German refugees after the war. One morning one of those refugees entered the church, looked up at the choir, and recognized Schmidt as one of his interrogators in the POW camp. Both men were surprised to meet again in a different situation. Schmidt immediately befriended him and they remained in touch the rest of their lives.

Schmidt owned a drug store in Tacoma at 23rd & K Streets. During the riots of 1971, his store was vandalized. Everything was stolen or damaged, says Schmidt’s son, John. In 1972, Schmidt leased the market in Key Center built by Purdy Realty after the disastrous 1970 fire there. The family lived in Vaughn for a year before moving to Home. He bought the market after a few years.

The retail business was Walt's lifeblood. John, who was 12 when they took over the Key Center market, says his dad bought their second store in Allyn around 1978, then became a third partner in the McCleary store. Schmidt had to take over the store there, so kept it only a few years.

He sold the Allyn store, became partners with Don Zimmerman and set up the market at Lake Kathryn. He then sold the McCleary store. He bought the Bridgeway Market in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, says John.

“In all the years of our partnership, we never had an argument,” says Zimmerman. “I liked the guy as a person, too.”

Perhaps Schmidt learned to not argue from being the only boy and the youngest of 12 children. He told Mary Krumbein once, “I have 11 sisters; I never argue with a woman!”

“One of the things I admired most about him was his soft spot for boys who had been raised in orphanages, as he’d spent time in one,” Zimmerman says. “His dream was to put up a boy’s orphanage camp on the Quinault River.” He purchased property, and worked toward the goal, but gave it up when his wife’s health declined.

Schmidt retired from the Market six years ago, but continued to stop by every day for many years, just to say hi to the shoppers or to see how business was going. Even at the age of 80, Walt still drove his truck, making trips to the bank and taking care of other business in the area.

“He was a very generous man to the community,” says John, and that view is repeated from nearly all who knew him.

“He sponsored baseball teams, including Little League,” says John. “He’d provide shirts or bats, or whatever was needed.”

Community member Hugh McMillan said, “Walt was a charter member and the first Treasurer of the Key Peninsula Lions Club. The entryways to Walt’s Fine Foods were frequently adorned with Girl Scouts hawking their cookies, Boy and Cub Scouts doing fund-raisers for scholarships for Scouts needing assistance, the KP Lions conducting the annual White Canes’ Days fund raisers in support of Lions Sight Conservation programs and Lions Golden Ear Days supportive of the Lions Hearing Conservation programs, KP Firefighters’ volunteers collecting funds for a plethora of good causes, the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Buddy Poppy program.”

Schmidt also supported skate night at the Civic Center, Volunteer Park projects, and the fire department. The volunteer firefighters could get refreshments at his store after a fire call, and Schmidt worked with Ashes, the firefighters’ auxiliary.

“He’d help anyone who was down on their luck,” says Nita Glass, a longtime customer. He extended credit when it would help people in the community.

Clint Buckell tells of the time a brother-in-law visited from out of state. Buckell asked Schmidt if he’d cash a check for the man. “Of course,” said Schmidt, with no questions asked.

“Your word to him was more valuable than anything else,” says John. And he stood by his own word.

“In his death he leaves behind a legacy of a family who love and miss him, and a community that is grateful for his generosity and kindness to all,” noted Pastor Dan Whitmarsh at Schmidt’s service.