Cover photo for Norbert Lewis Schmitz's Obituary
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1921 Norbert 2017

Norbert Lewis Schmitz

May 18, 1921 — April 3, 2017

MIDDLETON - Norbert Lewis Schmitz of Middleton, WI, age 95, died peacefully, surrounded by his family, on April 3, 2017. He was born May 18, 1921, in Green Bay, WI, to Anton A. and Edith E. (Lewis) Schmitz. In his life, he wore many hats: electrical engineer, inventor, consultant, educator, sailor, conservationist, husband, father.

Norb graduated from East Green Bay High in 1938, and from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1942. MS and PhD degrees followed, in 1948 and 1951. As an electrical engineer, he contributed toward the war effort with his work at Cutler Hammer Co. in Milwaukee, developing military control systems and components for the Navy and Air Force. While in Milwaukee he also taught electrical engineering (EE) at Marquette University and Milwaukee Vocational School, and took graduate courses toward an MS degree.

Norb was an avid sailor throughout his life. He raced his 19-foot Lightning Class sailboat, the "Coed," at the Milwaukee Yacht Club, where he won the 1946 Lightning Class Season Championship. With "Coed" in tow, he returned to Madison in 1947 to teach EE courses and pursue graduate studies. As a member of UW Hoofers Sailing Club, he taught aspiring sailors the rudiments of sailing. As luck would have it, Ruth Yates, a fellow graduate student, was among them. He persuaded her to become his racing partner, and they married in 1950. They completed their respective PhDs in 1951. Norb was appointed to an assistant professorship, acquiring responsibilities for teaching courses on electric machines, and for the development of a control systems laboratory.

Norb and Ruth began their family on the south shore of Lake Monona, where they enjoyed summer days sailing the "Coed" and winters sailing their Class A gaffe-rigged iceboat, the "Ione." In 1960 they bought a woodland farm in the Baraboo Hills. Their love of the area inspired them to become active conservationists, and led to their founding directorship of the Baraboo Range Preservation Association. Their efforts were instrumental to the Aldo Leopold Foundation's acquisition of Potter's Woods, a 400-acre tract of virgin Baraboo Hills woodland.

In 1963, Norb and Ruth moved their young family to the north shore of Lake Mendota. Between teaching sessions, Norb kept his family busy with camping trips, sailing, paddling, water-skiing, and improving their Baraboo Hills tree farm.

In later years, Norb and Ruth ventured to sail the Caribbean, and the east coast from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland. They loved "big water sailing," and soon 30-foot sloop, "Spray," entered their lives. They spent 18 idyllic summers in beloved "Spray," sailing from the waters of Door County through Lakes Michigan and Huron, and up the St. Lawrence Seaway to Lake Superior and its wilderness harbors. In 2003, "Spray" was donated to the U.W. Hoofers Sailing Club where she still sails as a teaching craft for aspiring keelboat sailors.

For twenty-five years Norb taught US Power Squadron navigation courses, and was awarded a lifetime membership in recognition of his service.

Norb's professional accomplishments included election to honorary societies Tau Beta Pi, Eta Kappa Nu, and Sigma Xi. He was a senior member of IEEE, and an elected Fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences. He developed numerous patents in collaboration with the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. Norb retired as Professor Emeritus in 1983.

Norb was preceded in death by his parents, his wife Ruth, and a son, Karl. He is survived by children Karen (Martin) Voss, Kathleen Carlyle (Ken Smith), Lawrence (Betty) Schmitz, and Wendy (Tim) Brockish, his eight grandchildren, and five great grandchildren. A family memorial gathering will take place at a future date. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to Agrace Hospice Care, 5395 E Cheryl Pkwy, Fitchburg, WI 53711, or Baraboo Range Preservation Association, PO Box 205, Baraboo, WI 53913.
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