Julia Schmitt remembers coming home late one night, bothered by her boss or "20 million things" at work. She found her father, a night owl, fully awake and ready to listen. They talked for hours. Actually, she talked.
"He was a great listener and not one to give advice. If someone needed to talk, he was great at processing," she said. "For two hours straight, he let me talk. ... He made you feel heard."
Each day, these pages are filled with stories of people who have shaped their communities through their impact on business, education, government or the arts. Darwin Lee Schmitt's story is a quieter one.
Brilliant, artistic and intensely curious, he was a husband, father and friend who listened more than he spoke, comfortable with silence yet capable of conversing about anything from woodworking to politics, native prairie grasses to coin collecting.
Schmitt, 68, of Minnetonka, died this week while driving home after meeting friends for coffee when his car collided with a dump truck.
Susan Bloom, who'd met Schmitt and a group "of grumpy old men" a dozen years ago over coffee, said they'd been sitting in the sun that morning, talking about the universe and swapping hosta. "We ended how we started," she said before pausing. "I just like knowing he was on the Earth."
Schmitt was born Sept. 11, 1950, to Wayne and Helen Schmitt in Hampton, Iowa. After graduating from Hampton Community High School, he attended Carleton College in Northfield. During his first year there, Schmitt's mother was killed in a car crash, said Anne McBean, a college classmate and longtime friend. He went on to graduate with a degree in history before earning a master's degree from the then-College of St. Thomas and taught high school social studies for a time.
Schmitt met Emily Clough at Carleton. They were married in August 1982, Julia Schmitt said. Darwin and Emily Schmitt adopted Julia and Alice in 1986 and 1989, respectively, from Korea.
A lifelong learner who loved gadgets, Schmitt pivoted from teaching to working with computers. He worked for Control Data in the 1970s and 1980s and later became a database consultant before retiring a couple of years ago.
Over the years, he immersed himself in gardening, coin collecting and, after retirement, woodworking. He built birdhouses (many sold by Twin Cities area garden shops) and created other works of art in a variety of woods. He loved music, dance and theater and was "a very supportive bystander," his oldest daughter said, as she became a dancer and then co-owner of an Eden Prairie dance studio.
He never lost his interest in history, delivering impromptu lessons at every opportunity and each roadside marker. His humor was dry. "He didn't tell dad jokes," Julia Schmitt said. "It was more highbrow than that. ... I didn't get them."
An example: He wrote on his Facebook page in February about hearing chickens clucking while sanding in his workshop. It must be his wife's phone, he surmised; her ringer was set for clucking. Running late, she repeatedly asked him if he'd seen it. He kept insisting he hadn't. More clucking. It turned out, the phone was in his pocket all along.
Julia Schmitt admits her dad's interests — such as tall grass prairie — could bore her to tears. Still, for Father's Day, she'd offered to go with him to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum where he could explain tall grass prairie to his heart's content. They never did.
Schmitt is survived by his wife and daughters, his father, three siblings, a stepmother and several stepsiblings. A memorial service is scheduled 2 p.m. July 1 at the Arboretum. Julia has prepared a nine-slide presentation on long grass prairie. Her father, she thinks, would approve.
James Walsh • 612-673-7428