“This town is a baby, historically,’’ he said. “If we don’t instill the influence of Christianity in these formative years, it will grow up without it.’’
In 1980, he explained to The Miami Herald that the church should be “wide open to all races and cultures and . . . become a voice for minorities.’’
Schmidt had come to South Florida as an intern in 1949 after graduating from the Lutheran-run Capital University in Bexley, Ohio, where he lettered in football.
Son Matthew, a Florida Power & Light line specialist, said that his father got off the train in Hialeah, walked all the way to Miami Springs toting a suitcase, saw some guys playing basketball in Hook Square, crossed the bridge and joined in.
The congregation liked him so much that they invited him back after he graduated from Trinity Lutheran Seminary, in Columbus, Ohio. He was ordained in June 1951, just after marrying his Constance, the Pan American World Airways flight attendant he had met at church.
Grace Lutheran grew rapidly. A 1956 newspaper story noted that when Schmidt arrived, the congregation consisted of eight families meeting in a recreational hall.
Largely because of his “enthusiasm,’’ membership zoomed to 650 in five years, the story said. Plans were in the works for a $100,000 church building.
Schmidt, then chairing the Youth Recreation Commission of Miami Springs, talked about how much he liked working with kids.
“I believe that teenagers today are morally, spiritually and ethically better than teenagers in days gone by,’’ he said.
He and Constance would eventually have teenagers of their own. They adopted son Mark and daughter Laura as infants, then had sons Matthew and Luke.
That almost didn’t happen. In 1959, Schmidt and a fishing buddy nearly drowned after their boat capsized in the ocean about a mile south of Virginia Key. They struggled in the water for nearly two hours, without life jackets, before a Coast Guard helicopter rescued them.
“I know the real meaning of prayer now,’’ Schmidt quipped.
Always fit and active, Schmidt was a passionate Miami Dolphins fan who encouraged his parishioners to get moving. He started church baseball and bowling leagues, and worked on church issues while golfing with lay leaders.
“He always liked to have fun,’’ said Mark, a Key West fishing guide. “If he was dealing with a family emergency, he was serious. But he liked to have parties in the social hall and at the house.’’
In retirement, Schmidt visited parishioners in the hospital, stayed active in the Rotary Club and a church-based senior’s group called Funsters. A rotation of parishioners took him to dinner.
David Imhoff said that in his last weeks, Schmidt got to do some of this favorite things: dance with one of the Funsters ladies and go to a basketball game.
A memorial service is planned for 1 p.m. Feb. 9 at Grace Lutheran, 254 Curtiss Parkway, preceded by visitation at 11 a.m.
The family plans to scatter Schmidt’s ashes off Key Largo, where he went fishing, snorkeling and diving, and kept a mobile home — in the same waters where Constance Schmidt’s ashes were scattered.