July 31, 1930 – Feb. 23, 2019
Bob Schmidt, a retired steamfitter who gave more than 30,000 hours of volunteer service to the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, died Feb. 23 under hospice care in his Lockport home after a short battle with lung cancer. He was 88.
Sean Kirst of The Buffalo News paid tribute to him in January, when the refuge was closed during the government shutdown, characterizing him as “a paragon of American selflessness.”
Kirst went on to say that Mr. Schmidt “is a bird guy, and there are few places in all of upstate that match Iroquois as a haven for migrating birds. In appreciation, for decades, Schmidt provided a little bit of everything.
“He mowed observation areas and worked along the trails. He also helped his buddy, Carl Zenger, an 80-year-old volunteer with similar passion, in caring for the wood duck and bluebird boxes that make the 10,800-acre refuge one of the premier spots in New York for easily viewing the elusive state bird.
“From time to time, they would come across an Eastern Screech-Owl in a wood duck box, band it, then set it free.”
Born in Buffalo, the oldest of five children, Robert A. Schmidt graduated from Pine Hill High School in Cheektowaga in 1948 and entered the apprentice program to become a steamfitter on the recommendation of his mother’s brother.
From 1951 to 1955, he served in the Navy in the Pacific aboard the maintenance ships USS Gunston Hall and USS Sphinx, which was fired upon during the Korean War.
He returned to his job as a steamfitter, working at Bethlehem Steel, Millard Fillmore Hospital and many other locations, primarily for Joseph A. Davis Co. A member of Steamfitters Union Local 395, he retired in 1995.
A multisport athlete, for decades he played every position in municipal league softball and was inducted into the Amherst Softball Hall of Fame in 1989. He also coached Little League baseball.
He won a silver medal in the 5K race and bronze in the 10K race in the Empire State Games in 1985. He also enjoyed racquetball, golf, bowling, bicycling, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
An avid hiker, he was a member of the Foothills Trails Club and a National Trails Day volunteer.
An Amherst resident until he moved to Lockport in the mid 1990s, Mr. Schmidt began volunteering at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge in 1997. Ten years later, in recognition for all his work, he became the second volunteer at the refuge, after Zenger, to receive the Interagency Volunteer Pass, which gave him free admission to federally managed fee areas.
He and Zenger helped build the boardwalk on the refuge’s Swallow Hollow Nature Trail. One of their other tasks was to put identification bands on the legs of birds, doing nearly 500 a year.
Survivors include his wife of 67 years, the former Catherine Middleton; three daughters, Roberta Williams, Denise Schmidt and Sue Ann Schmidt; a son, Timothy; a sister, Cathy Miller; nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Services will be held at noon Friday, March 1, in Amigone Funeral Home, 5200 Sheridan Drive at Hopkins Road, Amherst.