A Tribute to an Industry Pioneer
A Tribute to an Industry PioneerJoseph J. Schmidt, Jr.
On April 8, Joseph J. Schmidt, Jr. passed away peacefully in San Juan Capistrano, California. At age 85, he leaves behind a devoted family, who describe him as creative, hardworking and highly appreciative of life. He also leaves behind friends in our industry, who remember him as a man of great integrity and a true pioneer.
Born on May 13, 1920, Joe grew up in Spearville, Kansas as one of eight children. After his 1938 high school graduation, he left home with only $10 in his pocket but with an abundance of ambition and hope. He hitchhiked around the western states working harvest crews, selling music lessons door to door and doing other odd jobs.
In 1942, he entered the armed forces during WW II. This led him to the unruly jungles of South America followed by a fortunate twist of fate that put him back in the United States for pilot training. After receiving his wings, he went on to serve as a flight instructor, a captain and a commander before training for “secret missions” later known as the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb flights. He claimed relief in not having to use his skills for this type of mission. When the war ended, he received an honorable discharge in 1945.
Joe returned to Los Angeles, California and found an intriguing industry and the love of a good woman named Mary. During a period of 13 years, Joe assumed various roles within the plastering industry, including a plasterer, a foreman, a superintendent and even owner of a company he started – Angelus Plastering.
However, his next major calling came in 1958 when Dave Gaston hired Joe as a field engineer at Thomsen. At the time, the company’s plaster pumps were new to the industry and Joe’s responsibility was to deliver the units and instruct owners how to operate and maintain them.
Gaston notes, “Joe was the real foot soldier and should be given tremendous credit for helping these products gain acceptance within the industry. He was an outstanding guy who spoke the language, and everyone loved and respected him. There was none better than Joe.”
Joe was also a huge influence in the development of concrete pumping. One day, he was demonstrating a plaster pump in central California when approached by a contractor who asked if he could make the machine pump concrete. Rushing to the phone, Joe called on Thomsen engineers Marvin and Dick Bennett and together the three talented minds quickly figured out a new manifold design. It was built overnight and sent on a Greyhound bus for Joe to install the next day.
The unit worked with reasonable success, and Thomsen’s transformation into a manufacturer of concrete pumps began. The development of this technology and the industry’s acceptance of the equipment were due, in no small part, to Joe’s major contribution to the endeavor.
Years later, Joe established a working relationship with Putzmeister owner Karl Schlecht when Joe gave him a tour of Thomsen. After Putzmeister acquired the company in 1982, it was Joe whom Karl would often call upon when he visited the States. During Joe’s 26 years with Thomsen-Putzmeister, he was a field engineer, salesman, regional sales manger and always a key part of the organization. Traveling extensively while covering half of the USA, Joe is said to be the first Putzmeister regional sales manager. He is also credited with the first true sale of a Putzmeister 50-Meter boom pump in Northern California. At the time, it was the world’s largest.
A strong proponent of the once small and struggling ACPA, Joe clearly understood its value. He attended all meetings, aggressively promoted it and diligently helped build its character and membership.
“Joe strongly believed in the industry,” says Alex Wagner Jr. of the Alexander Wagner Company in Paterson, New Jersey. “When we needed credible information on plastering,” Wagner recalls, “Joe spent countless hours on the phone sharing his knowledge and wisdom even though he wasn’t on anyone’s payroll. He just wanted people and this industry to succeed.”
“In fact,“ adds Wagner, “we still have the book Joe authored, which informs how to operate and maintain plastering equipment along with giving advice about mixes and providing other helpful tips.”
Joe retired from the industry in 1988 with a collection of awards. These include the 1978 Thomsen Pacesetter Sales Award, the 1979 Thomsen Regional Sales Manager of the Year Award, the 1988 Outstanding Service Award as Regional ACPA Director for Area Six; and perhaps his most prized, the 1998 ACPA Pioneer Award.
Gary Schmidt, Joe’s second oldest son, was guided into the pumping business by his father’s gentle influence. Today, he is a regional sales manager for Putzmeister. Ironically, his role with the same company is similar to the one his father once held.
Gary knows his father’s legacy is a tough act to follow. “My dad’s devotion to our family and his passion for this industry were the two most important things in his life,” Gary notes. “He was well respected and his credibility was something he never compromised. I’m very proud to follow in his footsteps.”
In the year 2000, Joe started struggling with mild symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease that became progressively worse over time. He remained strong and courageous and was kept comfortable due to the devotion and constant care provided by his wife. Prior to his death, family members were told of Joe’s failing heart, which wasn’t a surprise, as this was the part of his body he used most. However, what finally took his life was a bout with pneumonia.
Joe leaves behind his wife Mary whom he wed 57 years ago, four sons, two daughters and sixteen grandchildren. Two of his brothers also survive him. We appreciate and will miss this “founding father” of our industry.