J. Frank Schmidt, Jr.
J. Frank Schmidt, Jr., a pioneering Oregon nurseryman and the founder of J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co. of Boring, Oregon, died December 30, 2004, at his beloved ranch near Maupin, Oregon. He was 85.
Born in Portland on March 30, 1919 to Edna (Hays) and J. Frank Schmidt, Sr., Frank Jr. was brought up in the nursery business along with his three siblings, Dan, Don and Betty, all of whom grew up to operate their own nurseries. He attended Fairview Grade School and graduated from Gresham High School in 1938.
Frank Jr. married Evelyn Mantsch in Swissvale, PA, on October 12, 1946 and together they set out to grow a nursery and raise a family. He is survived by Evelyn, his wife of 58 years, and three children; a son, J. Frank Schmidt III, of Boring, daughters Jan Barkley of Boring, Jean Webster of Fresno, California, and nine grandchildren. A daughter, Joyce, died in 1965.
Founded in 1946, the family-owned company expanded from the original 10 acres located on Halsey Street, west of Fairview, Oregon to become one of the largest deciduous tree nurseries in the country. Seven farms spread across more than 3,000 acres and employing more than 700 people at peak times produce more than 500 varieties and cultivars of deciduous shade, flowering and specialty ornamental trees and shrubs that are sold to nurseries across the continent.
Frank Jr. carved his own niche in the nursery industry by perfecting the mass production of bare root shade and flowering trees produced from budded cultivars. His efforts to bring superior trees to the marketplace led to the introduction or co-introduction of 46 patented, trademarked or registered cultivars, the most famous of these being the Red Sunset® Red Maple. Introduced to the trade in 1966, it was named the #1 Shade Tree in Ohio performance trials, and soon became the top-selling red maple in the country.
Frank Jr. also pioneered the production of containerized shade trees, establishing in 1984 a container division that has grown to 80 acres. Partnering with management employees, he founded Northwest Shade Trees in 1971 to answer the region’s growing need for large-caliper trees.
After turning over day-to-day management of the company to his son, J. Frank Schmidt III, and daughter, Jan Barkley, more than a decade ago, Frank Jr. remained active in its management as Chairman of the Board until his death.
Less publicized than his business success is Frank Jr.’s determination to “give back” to the nursery industry and his community through quiet philanthropy and a generous spirit of volunteerism. Over the years, countless personal and employee hours have been donated to horticultural and civic causes, and more than $2 million have been given to charity via the J. Frank Schmidt Family Charitable Foundation.
Founded in 1986 to mark the 40th Anniversary of J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co., the non-profit foundation was made possible by a gift of the original parcel where the nursery was founded in 1946. Horticultural researchers, plant breeders, arboretums, college and high school scholarship funds, local schools, charities, medical foundations, historical societies, youth groups and other non-profit organizations benefit from Frank Jr.’s generosity and vision. The Foundation’s lead gift plus additional gifts from J. Frank Schmidt Jr. helped make the Oregon Garden, located in Silverton, a reality.
Throughout his life, J. Frank Schmidt, Jr., was generous with his time. Every year, he planted and tended a company garden of several acres of corn, tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables to share with the families of his employees. Each summer, he toted armloads of his homegrown lilies, gladiolas and dahlias to the homes and businesses of his many friends. An avid pilot, Frank Jr. joined the Columbia Aviation Association in 1966 and participated in many fly-ins and other events.
Active in local and national nursery associations, he first served as president of the Portland Nursery Club, a forerunner of the Oregon Association of Nurserymen (OAN), which he helped to found. He served on its Marketing and Farwest Show Committees and was President in 1963.
A founding member of the Nursery Marketing Council, he served as President of the National Association of Plant Patent Owners and President of the American Nurseryman Credit Association. He was a member of the International Plant Propagators Society, the National Shade Tree Conference and the Horticultural Research Institute (HRI). He also served three terms on the Advisory Council of the U.S. National Arboretum, located in Washington, D.C.
On the community level, Frank Jr. served on the Multnomah County Planning Commission. He was a member of the Gresham Elks Club and Gresham Kiwanis Club where he served as President. He was a founding Director and served as Chairman of Mt. Hood Security Bank. A founding member of the Mt. Hood Community College Foundation Board, he was presented with MHCC’s Patron Saint Award in 1999, in recognition of his outstanding service to education.
Frank Jr. was named an Honorary Life Member of the OAN in 1983 and was named to its Hall of Fame in 1993. In that same year, Frank Jr. was named an Honorary Life Member of the American Association of Nurserymen (now known as American Nursery & Landscape Association - ANLA) and inducted into the AAN Hall of Fame. The Portland Chamber of Commerce named him Farmer of the Year in 1980, and he received the Pacific Coast Nurseryman Outstanding Service Award in 1987. A decade later, NMPro Magazine named him Nursery Grower of the Year.
In recognition of his outstanding service to agriculture, the Oregon Department of Agriculture presented him with its Agricultural Progress Award for lifetime achievement in 1998. The following year, Garden Writers of America presented him with the Wilfred J. Jung Distinguished Service Medal in recognition of his outstanding service to horticulture.