Meet Legacy Society Member Sandra Schmidt
It was a match made in heaven-or more accurately, a high school gymnasium. The year was 1967, and Gene Schmidt was working as the boys' PE teacher at a high school in a Chicago suburb. Just 22, he was funny, outgoing and athletic and had recently graduated from Western Michigan University, which he had attended on a baseball scholarship. As it so happened, another recent college grad-a tall, pretty woman named Sandra-got a job as the girls' PE teacher at the same school. It was only fitting that they fell in love.
"I guess you could say it was a high school romance," Sandra said, laughing. "The kids thought it was wonderful."
Two years later, they were married-beginning a life together that would span three decades. The Schmidts had a son, Zach, and then a daughter, Casey. Gene became a school superintendent and later launched a career in finance in New York. Sandra, meanwhile, became an elementary school teacher, a reading specialist and later, a special education teacher for elementary and middle schools.
"We weren't perfect people or anything. We had our problems like everyone else," she insists. "But we were happy."
Then, ALS intervened. The first symptoms started in 1989. Gene had started to complain about a numb and tingly feeling in his hands. He thought it was carpal tunnel syndrome, from too much time on the computer. An orthopedic doctor sent him to a neurologist, and several months later, he was diagnosed with ALS. He was 44. Zach was 13, and Casey was only 10.
"We were actually fortunate, because his disease progressed slowly," Sandra said. "He was mobile for a long time. Even at the end, he could still walk with help."
In 1998, nine years after his first symptoms, Gene passed away at the age of 52. Since his death, Sandra has been a committed supporter of ALS research and The ALS Association. Now retired with three granddaughters, she recently completed her third charitable gift annuity for The ALS Association.
"I guess I give for selfish reasons, because of Gene and everything he went through," explains Sandra, who lives on Long Island, N.Y. "I very much would like to see the day when science knows how to prevent ALS or stop it from progressing."
The daughter of an Indiana firefighter who worked a second job to send his five children to college, she said that growing up, her family had little money left over for charity. It was Gene who taught her the importance of giving back. For years, he volunteered to run fundraising events for a local cystic fibrosis organization. He also volunteered for the YMCA and local schools.
"He always felt strongly that we needed to give back to society. I learned that from him," she said. "I can't think of a better way to honor him than to give back to fight ALS."