In your great site you mention that the troopship USS President Taylor went aground at Canton Island early in 1942 and that it was destroyed by Japanese Aircraft. For a year 1943-1944 I was stationed a stone's throw from that ship on the beach, went aboard a few times, saw little damage. Furniture from the old Taylor was all over our little island -- I saw a full length mirror in a tent -- the shack we called a 'day room' was filled with wicker chairs and sofas. The Japanese bombed us from flying boats with four engines at night in March and July 1943. I was a new arrival, and was Sgt of the Guard on the beach, when one the guards called "Light on the old Taylor" -- it was Venus shining through a porthole!! -- the moon and stars are huge near the equator. I sailed on the USS President Johnson in 1942 and the inter-island ship Haleakala. I think if you check Canton history, now called Kanton, you will find that the ship is still there on the beach. Former Staff Sgt. Richard C. Schmal
The following March 23, 1944, Lowell Tribune article was found on page 2, column 2:
LOWELL -- "If my history and English teachers could see me now, would they ever be in for a surprise," remarked Dick Schmal of Lowell.
He was referring to the monthly history column he writes for the local newspaper, a project he finds fascinating in his off-work hours.
He admits to a longtime interest in Indiana history, but never to the extent he is involved in it now. Tracing genealogies of local families who have lived near Lowell hasn't always come second nature to him. Schmal has written the column for two years and finds his resources multiplying as he picks up copies of books on history of the area from people who are willing to donate them to him.
Of course, his research included tracing his own family's roots. "I remember my dad telling me, 'Be aware of your tradition,'" Schmal said. Those words stuck in his mind until 1945 when he acted on them by buying a history book by Timothy Ball, documenting history in the county from 1834 to 1872. Schmal was a staff sargeant in the army when he discovered the book while stationed in Honolulu, Hawaii, buying it for $3. In it, he found an account of his grandfather, Adam, whose father, Joseph, was a German settler in Lake County. Since then, Schmal has traced Joseph and his wife, Anna, who came to this area in 1838, settling in St. John one year after John Hack. "They were neighbors in Germany and chose Lake County to settle when my grandfather, Adam, was nine years old," Schmal said. His grandfather, a resident of Center Township, was eventually elected county treasurer and became wealthy and a well-known citizen, one of the few settlers of German descent considered pioneers of Lake County.
Schmal's father, Fred, was a businessman in Lowell and his uncle, George, started the Schmal Dairy in Crown Point. Fred bought a hotel in Lowell, known first as the Union House, built in 1869, from his brother, Peter, in 1902 and operated it until 1916 as the Schmal Hotel. Schmal was born there and recalls when he was in his 20's re-shingling the roof. [NOTE: Mr. Schmal corrected this article later, saying he actually was nailing shingles over the old wood siding, not the roof.] During the time his father owned it, visitors from Chicago came on the Monon Railroad to spend Sunday afternoons in the summer, lounging on the lawn and sitting on the porch after enjoying a home-style fried chicken dinner served from noon to 4 p.m. Then they would return to Chicago after a weekend in the country.
His uncle, Henry Heiser, bought the hotel and operated it in the 1920's, and Fred went on to open a hardware store located in the building where the license bureau is today in downtown Lowell. Schmal recalls many years later a leather bank bag with a deposit slip for the hotel business was unearthed across Commercial Avenue where the Fife and Drum Pub is located now. Although the slip was lost in the meantime, the bag made of leather and a smaller version than a doctor's bag, was salvaged and returned to him.
A treasured memento of his father's business is the soap stone, bearing the original price of $1.25, Schmal has resting on the hearth of his fireplace in his family room today. He explains, "This was placed in the coals of the fire, wrapped in blankets, and used as a foot warmer when people rode in carriages."
Schmal grew up in a house east of the hotel that was razed in the mid-70's when the driveway for Costas Foods was installed off Commercial Avenue. [NOTE: Mr. Schmal later explained that the house he grew up in was actually two doors east of the hotel. The house he grew up in and the hotel are still standing as of 2001, but the house in between the two was razed.] Except for a stint in the army, from 1941-45, Schmal has always lived in the Lowell area and has continued to work in the hardware business. He worked at Youngstown -- now Jones and Laughlin -- in the hardware supply division in East Chicago, and he also worked at Christenson Hardware in Griffith in the '50's. There he was manager of several departments and became store manager until 1961, when he went to work at Gus Bock Hardware in Lansing, Ill., where he works currently.
In his collection of antique tools, he has a wooden block plane, a hand drill with support used for drilling at an angle, a fence tightener, a drill bit chip auger, and a draw blade used for shaping wood, He notes the materials used in tools have changed but many of the functions are the same, such as a leather cased retractable measuring tape, a ratchet screwdriver, and a bolt cutter bearing a 1918 date. Also in his collection is a wooden mallet used as a hammer when wooden pegs were used in buildings in place of nails.
Schmal is vice president of the Three Creeks Historical Association, formed in 1976, serving on the board of governors, representing Cedar Creek. He is proud to note that in the past Labor Day parade, he was the only World War II veteran present in the color guard for the annual homecoming celebration sponsored by the American Legion Post 101, representing the legion. As a member of the Lake County Historical Society, he has continued a tradition started by his father, who served as president.
This soft-spoken man was recently surprised by his co-workers on his 65th birthday, when they presented him with a medallion commemorating Lowell's historian. "I really didn't expect it," Schmal said modestly.
The following Post Tribune article appeared on June 28, 2003:
BY MELANIE CSEPIGA
LOWELL --- Perhaps the best way to honor a historian would be to make him a piece of history itself.
And so it was with Richard Schmal, 86, the Lowell Historian since 1997, in whose name Olde Towne Square park was recently dedicated. A plaque noting just that will be embedded in a historic rock in the park.
The honor was a well kept secret coordinated by Sharon Speichert, owner of the shop Portobello and a Lowell Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Association official.
It did catch Schmal by surprise.
Surrounded by friends and local officials in the gazebo of Olde Towne Square Park recently, Schmal accepted the honor as his wife and partner in history-related undertakings, Georgene, beamed.
"Georgene says I talk a lot, but I'm speechless," Schmal said. "It's very hard to be humble around here."
The plaque and its placement were presented by the Lowell Chamber of Commerce, Lowell Parks Department, the Three Creeks Historical Association, and a number of individuals, all of whom have benefited from Schmal's generosity with his knowledge of local history.
For example, Schmal has been called upon often by town government to furnish maps and necessary historical facts. Since 1980, he has written a historical column for the local weekly newspaper.
Schmal has worked regularly with the Lowell Main Street Association, and his research on downtown buildings proved invaluable when the group successfully sought to have a portion of the downtown listed on the National Register of Historical Places. He also wrote the script for candlelight tours and a pageant at Buckley Homestead County Park.
The Schmals are regular volunteers for the Lowell Downtown Merchants Association historical events, and have been articulate detailers of history in their Covered Wagon Series presentations to fourth-graders.
Schmal also maintains a Web site used often by local students.
Although his father taught him to be a good listener and observer of history, Schmal said it was during World War II, when he was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, that his bent toward history really began.
"The thing that set me off was a book I found in 1945 when I was stationed in Honolulu," he said, thumbing through the well-worn pages of "A History of Lake County 1834-1872" by Rev. T.H. Ball.
"My grandfather's name, Adam Schmal, is in here. He was a Lake County Commissioner from St. John during the Civil War Era."
Married for 56 years, the Schmals both had full careers before retiring; he was in the hardware business for 50 years, and she spent 45 years in banking.
They are involved members of St. Edward Parish, Lowell.
"We do a lot of church ministries," Georgene Schmal said. "We coordinate the marriage preparation for engaged couples. We're Eucharistic ministers and lectors."
They also maintain the St. Edward Cemetery records, sell the lots, and mark out the graves.
"It makes me feel good that it's all appreciated," Georgene Schmal said of her husband's recognition.
As for Schmal, he cited a quote from an unknown author: "Knowledge of the past begets wisdom of the future. It is satisfaction for sure."
Go to Richard Schmal, "Pioneer History Index," for further information.
Return to World War II Veterans
Return to Biographies