John Victor Schmidt, a modern renaissance man who at various times worked as a Broadway vocalist and stage manager, a private detective, a university professor, a farmer, and a national champion pole vaulter, passed away December 24, two weeks shy of his 101st birthday. News of his passing was confirmed by his family.
Born January 8, 1922, to musician Lorene Peshak and professor Jacob Philip Schmidt, Mr. Schmidt was raised in central Ohio, becoming a national pole vaulting champion before turning his attentions from athletics to the arts. He attended Ohio State University, majoring in music and physical education, where he performed in local theatre and choral circuits in between stints as a private investigator (Mr. Schmidt was shot on the job at least once, but considered the incident "too insignificant to mention" when asked to recount the highs and lows of his life).
In 1943, Mr. Schmidt was drafted into artillery service in World War II, only to return less than a year later after suffering a burst appendix. On a hunch, he applied to the Catherine Long Scholarship to study opera in New York at the Metropolitan Grand Opera, winning the prize and moving to New York the summer of 1945. While training, he decided to audition for the Broadway show Polonaise as a way to fill an afternoon; Mr. Schmidt was immediately cast, and made his Broadway debut that October, meeting his future wife Mary in the cast.
In 1947, Mr. Schmidt was a member of the original Broadway production of Brigadoon, which he would also take on its first national tour alongside Mary. In order to drum up publicity, Mr. Schmidt competed in Track and Field events as a pole vaulter while appearing in both Polonaise and Brigadoon, drawing attention to the productions as the "athletic chorus boy of Broadway".
In 1950, Mr. Schmidt appeared again on Broadway in Cole Porter's Out of This World, and in 1951, he performed in, stage managed, assistant choral directed, and understudied for the original Broadway production of Paint Your Wagon. Mr. Schmidt was offered the chance to stage manage the original Broadway production of My Fair Lady, but he turned it down, as it was too close to the birth of his third child.
By 1953, Mr. Schmidt and his wife has decided to settle down and focus on raising their family, moving first to New Jersey to teach, and then back to Central Ohio, where Mr. Schmidt became the first person to ever be publicly broadcast on television in the state, on February 20, 1956, at 3:40PM. He continued to operate the public broadcast station WOSU both on television and on the radio for decades, operating at various times as a singer, a sports broadcaster, a host, an announcer, and a program organizer.
While working for WOSU, Mr. Schmidt returned to OSU for additional education, receiving a B.S. in Vocal Music, and an M.A. in Radio and Television. In 1963, he became one of the first television editors and producers in the area, producing, writing, narrating, and starring in more than 300 educational films. He soon became a professor at OSU, and was named Professor Emeritus prior to his retirement in 1983.
Following his father's sudden death in 1965, Mr. Schmidt also became a farmer, taking over the family's land in Bainbridge, Ohio, named Overlook Hills. Under Mr. Schmidt's guiding hand, the area became a well known producer of maple syrup, and has become a popular vacation destination. In 1988, Mr. Schmidt and his wife were named the Ohio Tree Farmers of the Year, and in 1989, they received top honors as the National Tree Farmers of the Year.
A vibrant spirit, Mr. Schmidt did not rest upon retirement, instead turning his energy back to performing as a member of the Grandparents Living Theatre (later renamed Senior Repertory of Ohio) until 2016, when Mr. Schmidt was 94. Additionally, Mr. Schmidt formed an extensive improvisational relationship with the OSU School of Medicine, where students would work with him as a training patient while he would act out the symptoms of various ailments.
As of 2017, a documentary chronicling Mr. Schmidt's life is in the works by Ohio director Chuck Pennington. That same year, Mr. Schmidt returned to New York for the last time, meeting with Stephanie J. Block, Patrick Wilson, Kelli O'Hara, and the company of New York City Center's production of Brigadoon.
Mr. Schmidt was predeceased by his wife of 55 years, Mary, in 2003, as well as his parents, and his sisters. He is survived by his children John P., Hilarie, Fern, Laurel, and William V; nine grandchildren: Jacob, Betha, Jessie, Sarah, Charlotte, Ben, Isaiah, Johnny, and Alyssa; twelve great-grandchildren: Tyren, Evan, Daniel, Noah, Dominic, Michael, Cooper, Mary, Anderson, Adriana, Isabella, and Nicholas; and many extended family members and friends. Overlook Hills, the Schmidt family tree farm in Bainbridge, OH, remains in operation.