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Doc Schmitt: Garden City loses a familiar face

Whether it's the weekly Kiwanis luncheon, the Garden City Historical Commission meetings or services at St. Raphael Church -- there will be an empty spot in a lot of places due to the death of Francis Schmitt.

A retired dentist, Dr. Schmitt was a familiar presence around Garden City for about 60 years. He died Thursday at 93 following a brief illness.

"I don't think any one person knows the full scope of what he did. It's hard to imagine anyone who could do more," said Mark Barsamian, who bought Dr. Schmitt's practice in 1984 and practiced jointly with him four years. "It's a pretty big loss. You can't help but be upset by losing such a well-respected fine person. He really had a big impact on my life."

Honored at 89 as Garden City First Citizen, Dr. Schmitt maintained an active schedule over the years serving as a volunteer reader at Henry Ruff Elementary School, co-chairing a committee overseeing a large renovation project at St. Raphael Church where he had also chaired the parish council, and was an active member of the Garden City Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis and the Friends of the Garden City Library.

For many years, Dr. Schmitt worked as a city election worker, had served for a number of years as the city representatives to People's Community Hospital, organized a Garden City fluoridation program, was a volunteer instructor at the University of Detroit Dental School and was active in professional organizations. Only days before his death, Dr. Schmitt was reappointed to the Historical Commission.


"This really came as a surprise. I just found out this morning that he had died," said Ken Hines, fellow Kiwanian. "We had just gotten his son's address so we could send get well cards and wishes to him. He was an all-around good guy

-- you couldn't find a better friend."

Hines marveled at how active Dr. Schmitt had remained over the years, attributing that to his many interests and love of people. He often opened his home to guests whether foreign exchange visitors or new city administrators needing temporary housing while they relocated.

"I don't think I ever heard him say something bad about anyone," said Hines. "If someone else said something bad about a person, Doc would say 'Well, you weren't there or weren't in his shoes.' He had the philosophy that if you can't say something nice, don't say anything."

Barsamian recalled Dr. Schmitt had planned to retire after selling his practice but the two dentist got along so well, he decided to stay on beyond the six month transition period they'd planned.

"Francis was such a great teacher and a wonderful person. Even though I was a rookie and he'd been in practice 40 years, he still treated me with respect and listened to all my opinions," said Barsamian. "He really taught me a lot of about dentistry and ethics. The great thing about Francis was that he was progressive and not afraid to look at new things."

City Manager David Harvey said he lost track of how many committees he had served on with Dr. Schmitt over the years.

"I'm going to truly miss Doc -- he was kind of a Garden City icon. There was a lot of history there -- he outlived a lot of his generation," said Harvey. "He watched Garden City development from nothing and was happy to share that with you. It's another bit of our history that we've lost."

A native of Mendon near Kalamazoo, Dr. Schmitt and his late wife, Eileen, came to Garden City after he finished his World War II Army service.

The couple had three of their 12 children when they arrived in Garden City -- a town of 9,500 people and two dentists.

"We said we'd try it for five years and see if we were accepted by the community. The five years passed and we never looked back," he recalled.

At their home on Brown, where Dr. Schmitt still lived, the couple raised 12 children. Dr. Schmitt credited his wife with taking care of their family and home which allowed him to be so involved in the community.


When he was in his late 80s, Dr. Schmitt received the top honor in Kiwanis -- the Hixon Award -- and an honor he was particularly proud of, the Silver Beaver Award honoring his service to Boy Scouts. Two of his sons earned the rank of Eagle Scout.

But it wasn't all volunteer work -- Dr. Schmitt enjoyed traveling extensively around the United States and other countries. One notable trip was to the Holy Land.

"When he was in the Middle East, he was taking a picture of the people he was with on a boat and started backing up," recalls Hines. "He went over the side and fell into the Red Sea. The guys who pulled him out dislocated his shoulder and he had to go to the hospital."

It all worked out in the end. The ambulance transported Dr. Schmitt to where the boat was docking and he was waiting for his traveling companions when they got off the boat following lengthy disembarking process.

Dr. Schmitt is survived by 10 children: Thomas, Richard, Mary Masal, Paul, Lucy Smythe, Michael, Gregory, Martha Christensen, Alice Bimrose and Philip. Son Mark and daughter Anne Lendrum predeceased Dr. Schmitt.

Other survivors include: three sisters and three brothers; 21 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Visitation for Dr. Schmitt will be held 5-8 p.m. today (Sunday) with a 7 p.m. Scripture service on Sunday at Santeiu and Son Funeral Homes on Inkster Road at Marquette.

Dr. Schmitt will lie in state at 10:30 a.m. Monday at St. Raphael Church followed by an 11 a.m. Mass. In lieu of flowers, donations are requested to the SSJ (Society of St. Joseph) Guild, Nazareth, MI 49074.


Originally published August 27, 2006


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Dr. Francis Schmitt