“Smitty” Schmidt passes away, remembered by family and friends
By BRITTANY FHOLER
The world lost a beautiful bass voice after longtime Copperas Cove resident and icon Nelson Christian “Smitty” Schmidt passed away on December 31, 2020 at the age of 95.
Schmidt was born on June 3, 1925, to Rev. Emil and Ella (Schulze) Schmidt in the Methodist parsonage at Meier Settlement, Texas. He was the youngest of four children, with siblings Andrew, Ethelyn and Wilbur, who died three months after Schmidt was born. Schmidt and his family moved frequently due to his father’s job as a traveling Methodist minister serving the German-speaking population of Texas.
Nelson started school in the first grade with Ms. Jewel Yarborough in Copperas Cove. His family moved around several times until his father retired, and they moved into their home just outside of Copperas Cove at what is now the site of the current post office. He graduated from the 11th grade under Superintendent W. R. Goodson in 1943. After graduating, “he got an invitation from his ‘rich, uncle Sam’ to join the Armed Forces,” according to his family.
He served in the Army as a machine gunner (anti-aircraft) starting in October 1943. He spent five months in active combat in Germany, right up to V-E Day, followed by occupation duty, where he often served as a translator since German was his first language. He was honorably discharged on March 23, 1946.
Upon returning home, he devoted himself to serving at the Grace United Methodist Church, from teaching Sunday school, for youth and adult, to sitting on various boards and even serving a few years as custodian. He felt his greatest contribution, however, was when he joined the choir, where he sang bass for more than 61 years. His sister, Ethelyn convinced him to sing a solo after a last-minute cancellation of a friend’s wedding soloist. This provided him with a boost of confidence, and after that, he became a sought-after soloist, singing at countless weddings, funerals, graduations, and other ceremonies, and later joined a barbershop quartet alongside Lovett Ledger, Henry Dewald, and Floyd Taylor, according to his family.
In 1957, Schmidt married Dottie Alexander Mitchell, and helped raise her three children, Ronda, David, and Ricky Mitchell, whom he loved very much. Even though their marriage ended, he remained close with the children. On March 6, 1970, he married Charlene Dionne Walls, and gained an instant family with her teenaged children: Peggy, Patsy, and Danny Walls. They threw instant rice at the wedding as a nod to this instant family.
In 1971, the couple welcomed a son, Nelson, Jr, and in 1972, a daughter, Sylvia. The family they created is filled with love and devotion to one another and was one of his proudest achievements.
Charlene shared that they took their honeymoon with her three teenagers after they got married, spending three weeks together, cooking over a tiny stove and camping in the car until they made it to Knotts Berry Farm in California.
“He loved our children so much, from the very start,” Charlene said.
In March of 2020, the couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a reception at Grace United Methodist Church.
After serving in the military, Nelson bought a mobile feed mill which he took to farms to mill their grain. It caught fire and burned to the ground after only three years. That same month, Schmidt bought a Texaco business from Gilbert Schulze on the corner of Main Street and Avenue D, which he ran for the next 35 years. He frequently extended credit and a helping hand to young GIs and their families.
His daughter, Patsy Conner said that he would often give to others in need, even knowing it wouldn’t be repaid.
“He gave grocery money and extended credit to people who needed it,” Conner said. “He never broadcasted it, he just did it. He taught me to make wise choices, too.”
Conner shared that one of her favorite memories was right after her mother and Schmidt married and her older sister Peggy got sick.
“He asked Mom if he could go sit with her in the bathroom, and he sat on the side of the tub while she threw up in the commode over and over again,” Conner said. “He stayed with her for hours and held her hair. We were a brand-new family, and that was totally unexpected.”
Schmidt also owned “Uncle Fred’s Snow Cone Truck,” and dug graves for the reinterment of those in cemeteries on land taken over for the Fort Hood Reservation, and he helped build the Cove Theater in the early 1950s. He could be found at all hours at Smitty’s Texaco, ready to fix a tire, fill a gas tank and share a story.
Nelson Schmidt, Jr said that his dad liked to lead through example and anecdote.
“I treasure my memories of our time at the ‘station,’ where I would work until I was worn out and he would then carry on another 6-12 hours,” Nelson said. “A few times, when she knew he was working on a tractor tire, Mom would take us out on the porch late at night, and we could hear him banging away from a mile away. In later years I would join him for supper, and we would sit and solve the world’s problems. I didn’t always live up to the lessons, although I knew where I supposed to be aiming; and I wasn’t worried so much about his punishment (he only raised his voice to me once) as I was worried about his disappointment.”
Schmidt closed Smitty’s Texaco in 1990 but couldn’t stay away from working, so he began working at Goodyear Tire Company in Copperas Cove, where he remained for the next 15 years until he retired at age 80. Smitty and Charlene remained in Copperas Cove until moving to Bryan, TX, in May of 2017.
Smitty loved life and clung to it fiercely. He suffered a rapid decline from a previously undetected stomach cancer, and he passed away New Year’s Eve with family at his side in College Station. He will be intensely missed, but he was blessed with 95 years of life, and maintained his intelligence and quick wit all the way to the end, as he always wanted.
Daughter Sylvia Pierdolla shared that her dad often was mistaken for her grandfather.
“I would always reply, ‘He’s pretty grand, but he’s just my father!’” Pierdolla said. “He was 47 when I was born, so that was a common mistake. I was blessed to have an older Daddy. No one else had a WWII vet as their father in my grade. He had so much more wisdom than other dads. In college, when he came to visit, my friends said, ‘Oh, now we see where you got it. You tell stories just like your Dad!’ What a compliment.”
Pierdolla added that she learned the value of honesty and hard work and learned to value serving others through her dad.
“His stories were used to teach us the values that were important to him,” she said.
His eldest son Danny Walls shared a quote that reads “If you quit when you first face adversity, you have taught yourself to quit every time life gets hard.”
“I never saw him quit anything,” Walls said. “That stuck with me over the years.”
Due to COVID-19, the celebration of his life will be a family-only graveside service conducted by his grandson, Pastor Christopher Walls on Tuesday, January 5, at 2 p.m. This service will be livestreamed on Facebook through the Crawford-Bowers website for those wishing to attend virtually. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that people donate in his name to the charity of your choice.