Northland News

George F. Schmidt

Restaurant icon remembered as generous

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

The pounding fist of George F. Schmidt would echo through the ages.

The poignant moment in Schmidt's life came in 1988, when members of the German Village Society informed him they wanted to take over the Columbus Oktoberfest.

Schmidt, who founded the event in 1967, didn't really care for the proposal. But after some tough negotiations -- and Schmidt demonstrating his displeasure with a solid fist to Formica -- he relented, knowing he wouldn't compete with the event.

"He was never going to do anything that was going to deter from the village," his son, Geoff Schmidt, said. "Everything he did was for the good of the village."

"For him to give us that event was huge," said Bill Curlis, who was a volunteer at the time and would later run the event for 10 years for the Society, of which he currently is a member.

George Schmidt, who spent his last years in Worthington Hills, died April 8 at the age of 91.

Geoff Schmidt said his father was a true renaissance man: entrepreneur, philanthropist and self-taught watercolor artist.

"Mentally, he was sharp right up to the end," Geoff Schmidt said, "and he passed away peaceably."

Services were held last week.

The elder Schmidt grew up in Upper Arlington and graduated from Our Lady of Victory, when the Catholic parish in Marble Cliff had a high school.

Schmidt was a Navy pilot in World War II and later established a recreational seaplane base on Frank Road. He attended John Carroll University and the University of Dayton but didn't graduate from either.

He married Betty Jane Didway in 1947 and the couple had six children, who were raised in Upper Arlington. Geoff, John, Andrew, Georgeanne and Sandy graduated from Upper Arlington High School.

Their oldest daughter, Susie, went to Bishop Watterson High School.

In July 1967, he helped found the popular Schmidt's Sausage Haus und Restaurant in German Village. The restaurant has received national acclaim and media attention, including the Food Network's Best of Ohio and Travel Channel's Man v. Food.

Located at 240 E. Kossuth St., Schmidt's is an out-of-the-way spot -- even in German Village.

It attracts thousands of tourists each year and has helped neighborhood denizens, who are routinely asked by out-of-towners where to find the restaurant, develop the phrase: "No, I don't know the way to Schmidt's."

The restaurant began as a meatpacking house in 1886 and in 1914, J. Fred Schmidt's son, George L., opened a stand at the Ohio State Fair that has since become one of its oldest and most popular concessions.

On his 10th birthday at the 1932 Ohio State Fair, George F. was first serenaded by the Ohio State Fair marching band and the tradition continued annually through last year's fair.

In an interesting twist of fate, the Schmidt family once again took control of the Oktoberfest in 2009 and returned it to the Ohio State Fairgrounds. The German Village Society gets some proceeds from the event.

"We continue to benefit from Oktoberfest, both from the partial proceeds of ticket sales, but more than anything from the gift of a free booth at the event, which allows us to get our board members and volunteers out in front of that crowd sharing our mission of historic preservation and education," said Shiloh Todorov, German Village Society director.

Schmidt's first wife died in December 1993. He married Patsy Mumaw in 1996. He lived the rest of his life in their Worthington Hills home.

Schmidt was an industrious man, made of tough German stock, Geoff Schmidt said.

But he also had a soft side, volunteering for several organizations such as the Northwest Kiwanis Club, Charity Newsies, Columbus Maennechor and the March of Dimes.

He also took an acute interest in his children's activities, Geoff Schmidt said.

"He was a great father," he said. "He did a lot of stuff with his kids. His father didn't do a lot with him so he made sure he did a lot with us."

Todorov said he "brought so much to German Village."

"George Schmidt was a pillar of the German Village community for decades," she said.

"I didn't get to meet him personally, but he lives on in the stories longtime residents have shared about him and in the reverence his family has for him."

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