Theatre department founder Prof. Emile Schmidt passes away at 85

Prof. Emeritus Emile O. Schmidt, founder of Gettysburg College’s Department of Theatre Arts, died surrounded by family Aug. 1, 2012, three days after celebrating his 85th birthday.

A memorial celebration is planned on campus Sept. 8 at 2 p.m. in the Kline Theatre, Brua Hall.

He directed hundreds of productions in conjunction with both the College’s Owl & Nightingale Players and the summer theatre that he and his wife Patricia Martell brought to the community for some 20 years.

He designed the Kline Theatre in Brua Hall, which houses the Department of Theatre Arts. Brua’s bell tower is named in his honor. He joined the College’s Department of English in 1962 and retired in 1999.

Emile SchmidtAs director, teacher, and mentor, he affected thousands of students. He received the College’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 1997.

News of his passing prompted an outpouring from alumni. Comments from theatre participants spanning six decades are below. Please add comments of your own at the bottom of this page.

Chris Kauffman '92, now a professor in the College's Department of Theatre Arts, was not interested in theatre until he took a class with Schmidt, who changed his life, becoming a lifelong mentor and friend. "He was so funny and charming, and had a tremendous intellect," Kauffman recalled in an article in the Hanover Evening Sun. "As soon as I met him, I knew I wanted to be around him as much as I could."

The College’s Emile O. Schmidt Award — established by students, friends, audience members, and colleagues — is presented annually to a theatre student for scholarly excellence, service to the theatre program, and professional promise.

A first-generation Danish American, he was born and grew up in the Bronx, New York. His love of the theatre began when he saw his first Broadway play as a child. As a young man, he worked in the professional theatre with some of the major stars of the day. After serving in the U.S. Navy, he attended Ursinus College and earned his master’s degree at Columbia University. He met his wife while a professor at Springfield College.

He is survived by Patricia, his wife of 53 years; his children Kristine Pegno, Jenni Shomaker, and Matthew Schmidt; their spouses Matt Shomaker and Dina Schmidt; and grandchildren, Joshua, Jeffrey, Brian, Misha, Erik, and Rebecca.

Services were Aug. 5. Memorial donations may be directed to the Theatre Arts Special Gifts Fund at Gettysburg College, Campus Box 423, Gettysburg, PA 17325. To sign the guest book visit

He was a great man. Chelsea Bucklin ’10

Mr. Schmidt was an incredible teacher, director, leader, and friend. Stephanie Chlebus ’05

He contributed tremendously to the theatre department at Gettysburg, and his presence at performances will be missed I'm sure. Josie Bonventre ’04

He will be greatly missed.... I will pray for his family... Osamu Inoue ’04

Professor Schmidt was an important part of my years at Gettysburg, I will remember him with fondness. Hannah Roth ’99

My heart is truly heavy and filled with joy from great memories, all at the same time.   Dr. Schmidt was an amazing man.  I feel blessed to have been mentored, pushed, and loved by such a wonderful person and talented performer. My thoughts and prayers to Patricia and the family. Humbly, Lauren Wise Bright ’90

He played a very formative role in Gettysburg's theater community. Colleen McArdell '89

He was indeed a singular personality....may we all hope to live that long and full of a life. Peace, Dr. Timothy Test ’89

Professor Schmidt was unique and shaped my life in ways I couldn't have predicted. Laura (Henry) Federici '89

My thoughts will be with you. Robert Bangiola ’88

He was a truly dedicated educator and really made a bio major like me feel like I fit in with all the theatre majors. Rob Pomponio '88

Emile Schmidt was a very important person in my life at Gettysburg College. He was always very supportive and helpful to me. He is responsible for some of my best experiences at GBurg especially during Summer Theater sessions. I have a very warm spot in my heart for him and he will be greatly missed. I will write a letter to his wife expressing my condolences. Christopher Rudolph ’86

He was a large part of the landscape of several decades of students’ lives. Madeline Yates ’86

I was very involved in the theatre department starting with painting a few flats in the spring of my sophomore year. From there I was fascinated with all the wonderful characters on and off stage! I eventually settled into advertising/design as a career which is a perfect blending of words and images spiced with drama and/or humor. I have very fond memories of Theatre Lit class (Beckett anyone?) and building sets for 2 summers (nail guns & table saws!). Elizabeth (Liz) Belt McGregor ‘85

Mr. Schmidt fostered a life-long passion in me to pursue theatre as an avocation, which I have to this day, performing with several community theatre groups in the states of PA, NC and now VA. Presently, I reside in the city that is the home of the only recreation in the world of Shakespeare's indoor theatre, The Blackfriars. We have lost a very, very special person. Karen Romig (Bergmann, '84)

Oh my goodness - how sad to lose such a dynamic man! Maria Weisensee ’83

Emile was one of the greats. A legend. I had the privilege to perform in a few of his productions…where both his daughters, who were terrific, had featured roles. He had that signature bow after the performances which I will never forget. Hayes Reilly ’82

I was in the Owl and Nightingale Players mostly freshman and sophomore years. Brings back fond memories. Kind regards and sympathies to the family. Susan Dardes ’82

I worked with Emile on several shows while at the 'Burg, and in summer theatre as well, and he was a unique personality, to say the least. Ellen McDaniel-Weissler '82

He was an important person in my time at Gettysburg. Mary Naden ’79, certified Alexander Technique teacher, voice and performance coach

Emile lived out his passion well. He was a great example in my years at Gettysburg of one living out "Carpe Diem." Joan (Puzzini) Colbert, '79 

Wow. Someone I remember with fondness. Susan (Morrison) Phelan '79

I did indeed know Emile Schmidt and am saddened at his passing. Some of my fondest memories of Gettysburg occurred in his class, and under his direction and tutelage as a member of the Owl and Nightingales Players.  He in fact spurred my interest in theatre which eventually led to spending a number of years in professional theatre, television and film. He was definitely one of a kind, a phenomenal teacher and mentor. He will be missed. For Emile, from Anton Chekhov: “We shall find peace. We shall hear angels, we shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.” Rich Claar  '77

I really enjoyed acting in both high school and college. Acted in a January Term play, lights for Godspell, and took an acting course. Emile was demanding, but you were better for it.  He did influence my life. David Watters ’77

Sad news, yes, but great memories. Susan Martinelli ’74

I remember him very well from my involvement in theatre at G-Burg. Robert Gotwalt ’73  

We’re both very sad to hear of Emile’s passing. We worked with him on a number of productions during our time with Owl and Nightingale.  He was a unique individual and a true artist. Brian Schimpf ’72

I did some stage work with O&N as a student, and I also enjoyed his summer series of plays as a resident. I will remember him as one of the more colorful characters in the cast of the College's faculty! Bill Tuceling ’71

The news brought back a flood of good memory and I am grateful for the address so I might write to his wife Pat. In my mind’s eye, I see him full of energy, intensity, passion and joy. Rest in peace. The Rev. John B. Pumphrey '69

I have very fond memories of Emile Schmidt from my days at G-burg in the 60’s. As a bio major, I did not have the time  to seek out larger roles and so I worked more backstage on sets etc.  But I got to play one of the “floozies” in Death of a Salesman and Iras in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra. Owl and Nightingale was a cherished part of my  time at College.  I am half Danish American, and Emile always was very happy to note our shared heritage. Julie Jensen Bryan ‘68

I loved working with Mr. Schmidt -- he was an excellent director and teacher. Kathy Hooper Piper '67

I got a call from George Muschamp yesterday, telling me of the sad news. Emile arrived at G-burg the same year George and I were freshmen, and we quickly became involved in theatre and worked with Emile until we graduated. It is a testimony to Emile's influence in our lives that I still kept in touch with Patti and him after all these years and visited them on the way to moving to New Mexico in 1998. Adele Frances ’66

Emile was my first and favorite director, and a good friend. Don Fairchild ’66

He was larger than life, and a great spirit. He'll be greatly missed. It seems the end of an era. Katie Hedrick Burt ’66

Certainly a towering giant. Oh how I recall the productions of “She Stoops to Conquer”,  “Darkness at Noon”,  “Our Town”,  “Faust”, Rhinoceros”,  “Trojan Women”, “Hedda Gabler”, “South Pacific”, “Guys & Dolls”, etc. Every production ended with Emile taking his well deserved dramatic, gracious, sweeping grand bow.  But it was always to the cast, to his students, to his performers, and to his stars.   His eyes and smile penetrated everyone in the production. I can still hear him roar, “Don’t open the back door — the set will come crashing down!" Emile was the ultimate coach.  Never criticizing a performance but urging on,  “that was good but you can do better."  “Make your presence known."  “Stand taller, hold head higher, and throw that voice to the back of the theater." He was one class act — compassion, character, confidence, commitment, courage, coach,  color, costumes & curtains. Don Burden ’63

He gained a wonderful reputation, enjoyed a long tenure at Gettysburg College, as well as a long life. My mother, who resided in Gettysburg until 1982, said he kindly acknowledged his thanks for some period costumes she donated. We were able to attend a few theater productions . . . all of commendable quality. Condolences to all those who mourn his loss. Best regards on this hot summer day, Joyce Koontz ’60

Contact: Jim Hale, associate director of editorial services

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Posted: Tue, 7 Aug 2012

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