By Jess Fleming | Pioneer Press
Published: January 4, 2012
During more than 50 years of coaching and mentoring kids in hockey and other sports in Farmington, Louis Schmitz made a difference in thousands of young lives.
But when the man who brought hockey to town was saying his last goodbyes, he was more interested in giving than receiving thanks, said those who were closest to him.
“I thanked him for everything,” said Jack Cordes of Farmington, a friend and former player. “And he said, ‘You guys did way more for me than I did for you.’ ”
Schmitz, 85, died Dec. 30 of stomach cancer, surrounded by his family. In the weeks before his death, a parade of former players and community members stopped by to pay their respects.
“He had a wonderful life,” said his son, Randy Schmitz of Lakeville. “He said he wouldn’t trade the life he’d had for a million bucks.”
Born Aug. 21, 1926, in Red Lake Falls, Minn., Schmitz was father to five boys and four girls. He started Farmington’s hockey program in 1955, shortly after he moved to the city from Red Lake Falls.
On the first day he offered registration, 50 kids signed up, his son Bobby Schmitz said.
So the elder Schmitz recruited some parents to build boards. He set up the rink and flooded the ice himself.
“A week or so later, they were playing hockey,” Bobby Schmitz said.
Schmitz also helped start youth football, baseball, soccer and men’s and women’s softball leagues, his sons said.
He coached little league football until he was 82.
“Louis pretty much started every youth sport there is in Farmington,” said Mayor Todd Larson.
Players were recruited everywhere Schmitz went, family and friends said. If they didn’t have enough money for equipment, Schmitz provided them with pads, helmets and sticks.
“I went to see my older brother play one time and (Schmitz) just grabbed me off the sidelines and put me on the ice,” Cordes said. “Then he said, ‘Come back tomorrow, we have practice.’ ”
Larson, who played hockey for Schmitz, said he remembers playing goalie as a kid and feeling “like my feet were going to fall off.”
He said Schmitz told him to take off his skates and socks and run a lap outside in the snow bank. Larson said he thought it was a crazy idea, but he did it anyway.
“And it worked,” Larson said. “Louis was full of stuff like that.”
Players said Schmitz was the kind of coach who made sure everyone got to play.
“He taught us to play as a team,” said Phil Kramer, who played hockey for Schmitz in the late 1950s. “Winning was never an issue with Lou.”
The city’s ice arena, Schmitz-Maki Arena, was named after Schmitz and fellow Farmington hockey pioneer Al Maki in 2005.
In addition, Schmitz, who worked for 34 years at Dakota Electric, received numerous community awards over the years, including Outstanding Citizen of the Year and WCCO’s Good Neighbor award.
Friends and family say Schmitz would name just one reason for his community efforts: the kids.
“He said, ‘Kids are great and I love them,’ ” Cordes said. “He’s gonna be missed pretty badly by a lot of people around here.”
Schmitz, a World War II veteran, is survived by his wife of 62 years, Jean; nine children; 12 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.