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Chemistry professor loved rare books, history and learning

NORTH NEWTON, KANSAS – Robert W. “Bob” Schmidt, North Newton, Bethel College professor emeritus of chemistry, died April 1 at Schowalter Villa in Hesston. He was 88.

Schmidt was born in Enid, Oklahoma. He went to a one-room grade school and completed his secondary schooling in Meno, Oklahoma, at Oklahoma Bible Academy, where his mother, Esther Schmidt, was a teacher and his father, August Schmidt, was the principal.

Although Schmidt grew up during the years of the Great Depression, when times were hard, the Schmidt parents made sure their children took piano lessons and had a traveling library from the state during the summer.

The family went back and forth frequently between Oklahoma and Kansas to visit relatives and help with wheat harvest on a family farm near Pawnee Rock. Longer trips to California, Minnesota and Colorado were also enriching experiences for the Schmidt siblings.

Schmidt entered Bethel College in 1948 – both parents and almost all his uncles and aunts were alumni, and Schmidt looked forward to his turn at Bethel and the liberal arts atmosphere he had soaked up from his older brothers and cousins.

At the time of his 80th birthday, Schmidt told a Bethel College Mennonite Church newsletter writer that he had read his brothers’ yearbooks so many times he felt he knew the students he saw there – little knowing he would marry one of the young women pictured in the 1947 yearbook.

Schmidt received his chemistry degree from Bethel in 1952. He then taught one year at Sun City (Kansas) High School, where he had 20 students. In 1953, he married his college sweetheart, Betty Enns, who had taught that year at Coats (Kansas) High School, about 20 miles away. They were married 64 years.

The Schmidts moved to Norman, Oklahoma, where they started their family and Schmidt continued his education at the University of Oklahoma, earning master’s (with a thesis on the halogens of soft sea coral) and Ph.D. degrees. He then taught for two years at Simpson College, Indianola, Iowa.

In the fall of 1960, Schmidt was invited to join the Bethel faculty to teach chemistry and microbiology. The family moved to North Newton in 1961, after the end of that school year at Simpson.

Schmidt described his time at Bethel as “a dream come true.” His first 10 years there were during the heyday of the National Science Foundation, which made it possible for Schmidt to attend summer research and study programs.

Other highlights were sabbaticals at the Marine Institute of Virginia, at the University of Iowa Medical School and the University of Oklahoma. Schmidt also taught summer and evening classes at Wichita State University.

Due to difficulties with a malady known as ET (Essential Tremor), Schmidt took early retirement in 1991, which made it possible for him to pursue a lifelong interest in old and rare books.

When Book ReViews moved from its original location in North Newton to downtown Newton, Schmidt began volunteering there. In 2006, a group of investors bought Book ReViews and incorporated it as a not-for-profit store, with Schmidt as the manager.

After Schmidt left the manager position, he continued to help establish and maintain the store’s online book sales presence through ABE Books – a major source of income for the store, which donates all profits to local charities.

According to his family, Schmidt was an avid reader, had a wonderful sense of humor, loved history and was “always on a quest for knowledge.”

Schmidt was a member of Bethel College Mennonite Church, since 1954.

He is survived by his wife, Betty Schmidt; children, Rebecca (Gary) Dick and Karen (Kent) Richards, both of Baldwin City, Brian (Debra) Schmidt, Lenexa, and Kenneth (Linda) Schmidt, Salt Lake City; and eight grandchildren. Surviving siblings are Eleanor Nickel, North Newton, Wilbur (Arlene) Schmidt, Hutchinson, and James Schmidt, Oklahoma City.

A memorial service will be held April 7, 11 a.m., at Bethel College Mennonite Church, North Newton, with a public visitation April 6 from 6-8 p.m. at Peterson Funeral Home, 215 North Main Street, Newton.

Memorials are the Robert W. Schmidt Endowed Scholarship Fund at Bethel College and Bethel College Mennonite Church.

Bethel College ranks at No. 1 in College Consensus’ ranking of Kansas colleges and universities, and is the only Kansas private college listed in the Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities, the Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section and the National Liberal Arts College category of U.S. News & World Report, all for 2017-18. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

Bethel College does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, age, gender, sexual orientation, parental or marital status, gender identity, gender expression, medical or genetic information, ethnic or national origins, citizenship status, veteran or military status or disability. E-mail questions to TitleIXCoordinator@bethelks.edu.

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As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.