Former Elgin man drowned saving grandson in Wisconsin

Sunday afternoon was a beautiful day on Lake Michigan. Fran Schmidt said the day her husband died at a beach in Sheboygan, Wis., the water looked like the beautiful aqua of the Caribbean, the sky was bright blue and the sun shone on crashing waves.

The danger of the water was masked by its beauty.

Karl Schmidt, 61, a former teacher and principal at Elgin's Good Shepherd Lutheran School, swam out into the lake to bring his grandson to safety during a joint birthday party for his wife's sister and aunt. The boy made it to shore, but Schmidt did not.

Fran Schmidt said a surfer on the beach for a competition tried to bring her husband in and, struggling, got help from other surfers. Paramedics on the beach for the competition immediately started CPR but the former educator was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital that afternoon.

Fran Schmidt said with all the help on the beach, Sept. 2 must have been the day her husband was supposed to have a reunion with God.

Her husband spent more than 30 years as a teacher and principal at Lutheran schools in Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Minnesota.

“It wasn't work to him at all; it was a joy,” she said. “He loved it.”

During the two years he worked at Good Shepherd in Elgin, Schmidt became known as an educator who truly cared about his students. He left for a job in Milwaukee after the school board decided in 2008 to save money by having the pastor double as school principal. Good Shepherd now offers just preschool and kindergarten, scaling back from the preschool through eighth-grade classes it had years ago.

Carol Holtz, a retired Good Shepherd teacher, said Schmidt stepped in to teach middle school classes while he was an administrator. Holtz said it was not unusual to find him with students after school working on math problems, helping them understand the lesson.

Fran Schmidt has countless stories about her husband doing similar things — inviting students home when they needed help with homework, and providing a warm meal or kind words when needed.

The Green Bay Packers fan got some friendly ribbing from his colleagues in Elgin during football season, though.

“We used to do different things with the games or put things in his office just to remind him that we were in Bears territory,” Holtz said.

Schmidt retired in 2010 and moved with his wife to Freedom, Wis., to be closer to their families, children and grandchildren. Schmidt continued working part-time as a bus driver, never quite getting over his desire to be around students.

A funeral service will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sheboygan. In lieu of flowers, people are asked to donate to a memorial fund in Schmidt's name at St. Paul's School.

Karl Schmidt
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