Thursday, May 14, 2009

Prosit, Herr Schmidt

Wyman Schmidt was a leader in silvicultural research in the vast Northern Rocky Mountain area for 34 years. His studies and those of the group of scientists he led were directed at many tree species—western larch, ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, whitebark pine, and others—and forest ecosystems at a wide range of elevations.

Schmidt was recognized as an excellent research program planner and manager. He effectively led a unit whose members were scattered over a wide geographic area and organized several international technical conferences attended by hundreds of scientists and resource managers. He also deserved honors as an entertainer.

The forester became a barbershop singer as a teenager. During Air Force service in the Korean War, he often was assigned to Special Services to provide entertainment at bases throughout the U.S. When fellow Forest Service research personnel met in Bozeman or Missoula, Montana, where Schmidt’s unit had offices, you could count on him to have arranged musical or audio-visual shows to help fill off-duty hours.

We had two major laboratories in Missoula, and two people in the unit I supervised were stationed there. It never was a chore to visit Missoula; I enjoyed the city. It just seemed to be a place populated with genuine, down-to-earth people like those I grew up with in the Midwest. It also had some pretty down-to-earth eating places, among them the Missoula Club (the Mo Club), the Oxford (the Ox), the Montana Club, and a pizza place whimsically named “Red Pies Over Montana” after a movie about forest fires and smokejumpers titled “Red Skies Over Montana.”

Schmidt knew how to take advantage of what was available locally to entertain a visitor, sometimes in novel ways. Around midnight after one lengthy Missoula meeting, he invited me to head downtown with him for a bite to eat. He picked the place as one with an unusual menu that included breakfast items served at the bar at all hours.

I ordered scrambled eggs. Schmidt poked me and whispered, “Watch this.” He told the bartender he wanted an order of brains.

The bartender whirled around and yelled to the cook at the top of his lungs, “He needs ‘em!”

Schmidt made several trips at the invitation of governments in Europe to provide expert advice on forestry activities. After a visit to Germany, he put together a slide show describing his trip. He offered it for viewing as an evening activity at a Montana meeting of fellow Research Station employees. The last slide pictured Schmidt raising a stein at the famous Hofbrauhaus in Munich during Octoberfest. He claimed his visit just happened to end in Munich.

Schmidt got a lot of razzing about that. He was accused of arranging a boondoggle trip that allowed him to avoid work and spend most of his time in beer halls. He took all the kidding in stride, and figured out a subtle way to strike back.

Sometime later, Schmidt was sent to what was then Yugoslavia as a technical advisor. He again produced a slide show describing his activities, and attendees at another Research Station meeting were invited to a showing. The last slide showed Schmidt again toasting the audience--from a table in the Hofbrauhaus! He refused to answer any questions about how Munich had been relocated to the Balkans.

We stopped in Munich last month. Of course, we made a special visit to the Hofbrauhaus. Of particular interest was the wall of beer steins there, where personalized mugs are locked away for use only by their owners. Alas, we couldn’t find Schmidt’s stein. All were identified by numbers, not names. A few had pictures of the owner. Perhaps Schmidt’s was removed to be enshrined in a Munich tourist hall of fame somewhere else, but certainly not in Serbia or Croatia.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thoroughly enjoyed reading this article about my father Wyman Schmidt. Dick Klade was actually quoted to me over the years, as Dad had so appreciated and utilized his advice about writing, particularly scientific writing. Prosit!