Mary Schmidt: Savvy Entrepeneur,

Singer and Survivor

 

When considering the best way to describe Mary Schmidt, a few words came to mind. Schmidt is a savvy entrepreneur, operating a successful, one-person communications company. She is a singer, pouring her heart into newVoices in the Fox Valley. Finally, she is a survivor, celebrating 15 years since her battle with breast cancer. If you ask Schmidt, she’d tell you I left one “s” word off my list: Sassy.

 

“People will nicely say I’m assertive and I’ll say, ‘No, I’m aggressive.’ That is my personality,” says Schmidt. “I also have a pretty finely tuned sense of humor and I’m more than a little sassy.”

 

I found Schmidt to be genuine and quick to laugh — characteristics

needed to both run a business and beat cancer.

 

Her early career

Schmidt grew up in the suburbs of Milwaukee in what she describes as a big, loud German and Irish family. As a child, she was surrounded by music. As a teen, and even her first year in college, Schmidt had every intention of becoming the next Barbara Streisand, until she realized there were no want ads for that job in the newspaper.

 

She managed to get degree equivalents at UW-Madison in just about every liberal arts program possible before Schmidt felt the pressure to graduate. Anxious to earn a degree in a field she could find a job in, Schmidt considered her options.

 

Schmidt didn’t see a promising career with a degree in history, English literature or political science. She was thrilled to discover she only needed three more classes to receive a journalism degree.

“I said, ‘That’s what I’m going to do.’ It was very scientific. The reality was that silly decision was really the best decision,” she says.

 

After graduation, Schmidt became a reporter at WISC-TV in Madison. She adds, “Because I have a ‘take no prisoners’ personality, I always got the story.”

 

It was at this time a friend set her up on a blind date with a reporter at another station — she was introduced to Bill Jartz, a sports anchor at WSAW-TV in Wausau. The two hit it off and dated remotely for a while before making plans to move to the same town. Schmidt landed a job as a producer at Channel 11 in Green Bay after Jartz joined WBAY-TV. The couple got engaged and recently celebrated 31 years of marriage. “We realized it is difficult to have two careers in broadcasting — it’s almost impossible,” says Schmidt. “So, we decided I’m the one getting out.”

 

Schmidt worked in corporate environments and agencies, specializing in communications and public relations. She was the marketing communications manager for Employers Health Insurance (now Humana) and the marketing director for Bergstrom Hotels and later Bergstrom Automotive; she worked at agencies in between.

 

“After I did that for a long time, I realized the least used tool in the marketing toolbox was public relations. A lot of people really don’t know when it’s appropriate to use PR and what kinds of stories the business press and general reporters are looking for,” says Schmidt.

She had a good track record of success with some clients and demonstrated how public relations could build a company’s reputation. She adds, “That’s what it’s all about. It isn’t about spin and it’s not about pitching. It is about taking control of your own reputation. If you don’t, someone else is going to.” She took a leap of faith and started her own communications firm.

 

Becoming an entrepreneur

Schmidt founded Schmidt Communicates in November 2005. She explains her personality and being an entrepreneur is a perfect fit — something she wished she discovered years earlier.

 

As a consultant, she is an outsourced marketing director for some clients, and a specialist for others, whatever her clients want or need.

There is no typical day. “I will try to do most of my work and writing at night when Bill is at work, but I’m still working on that work/life balance,” she says. “When you are working for yourself, it’s hard to draw lines between what is work and what is home.”

 

Schmidt has an office in her home, although she often drives to the Valley to meet clients or to find inspiration. “I say the Copper Rock coffeeshop is my office. Everyone knows they can find me at the downtown Appleton or north side Copper Rock,” she says.

 

Schmidt Communicates is a oneperson shop. She looks for clients that have genuine, ongoing stories to tell. Some days, weeks or months

are busier than others. “Every entrepreneur realizes some days it’s a flood and other days you’re in a desert. You say a ‘Hail Mary’ and hope it all balances out,” she adds.

 

Battling breast cancer

Two months after her 40th birthday, Schmidt went in for her first official mammogram. She had insisted on a baseline mammogram

five years prior, which was useful in identifying her breast change. “I was very lucky it was found right away. That said, when someone

looks at you and says you have cancer, the bottom drops out of your world,” says Schmidt.

 

Her doctors were anxious to get Schmidt into surgery, but she resisted. She sought out a second opinion and discussed the recommendations

with her family. “My dad was a physician, both grandfathers were physicians and my brother is a doctor — there was no shortage of talk on the diagnosis.”

 

Schmidt had a lumpectomy and radiation followed by five years of tamoxifen. “I was terrified because of the unknown,” says Schmidt. “You don’t know what is going to happen to you. You wonder, ‘Am I going to be able to carry on my life and do what I love and what makes me happy?’”

 

It’s been 15 years since her breast cancer diagnosis, and Schmidt reveals the only time she thinks about cancer is at her yearly mammogram.

“I just know it isn’t coming back, I don’t know how I know that, I just do. Maybe it’s a positive attitude,” adds Schmidt. “I think you can

make the choice — are you going to sit and drive yourself crazy that this can come back or are you going to go out and live your life?”

 

Sharing her talents

In her free time, Schmidt is involved in a variety of non-profit organizations, but her heart is in the arts. She was introduced to songs from

the 19-teens and 1920s as a child — contemporary songs from her grandmother. Her mom and aunts taught her songs from the ‘30s, ‘40s

and ‘50s. She took singing seriously as a teen and young adult, taking private voice lessons at age 14. After college, Schmidt had little opportunity to sing. When her grandmother passed away, her cousins asked her to sing “Ave Maria” at the funeral. Schmidt agreed to practice and if something came out, she’d sing. “I went to my aunt’s house, she started playing and I started singing. We were both surprised at the voice that came out.” she adds.

 

Schmidt studied for eight months to get her voice in shape to audition for White Heron Chorale, now newVoices, Northeast Wisconsin’s

adult, mixed choir. She’s been singing with the group for 16 years. She joined the newVoices board a year later and realized the organization

had a long way to go before it was financially sustainable.

 

Under her watchful eye, newVoices recruited a strong working board and tweaked the programming to make it more relevant to the community. Rather than play solely music for musicians, Schmidt explains the board reviewed community issues and needs and combined those with programming that was also artistically significant. Programs have been geared to breast cancer survivors, the humane association and supporting food pantries. Schmidt reveals this fall’s performance, held at the Lawrence Memorial Chapel in Appleton on Oct. 24, will be

one of the most ambitious programs yet.

 

The organization is partnering with the Sexual Assault Crisis Center to present a concert called “Facing the Music,” which is the untold story of sex trafficking expressed through powerful music. They will take the message outside the concert hall with a community discussion, pre-concert talk and community book reads. “We feel very strongly we can use choral music to address issues so emotionally charged that they need a framework,” says Schmidt. “Music can express the emotions around hard issues and really start a discussion. We don’t want to solve anything or cure anything, but there is value in starting a discussion. That is where music can really be a catalyst.”

 

Schmidt finds her involvement in newVoices to be especially fulfilling. She says, “For me, personally, it fills me with such joy. I know when I’m singing that is 100 percent what God wants me to do.”

 

Daily life

Schmidt and Jartz live on 60 acres in an active farming community with their “fur babies” — dogs Daphne, Blizzard and Walter (an alumnus of the Fox Valley Humane Association.) This time of year the couple is busy caring for the property, which includes vegetable gardens, fruit trees

and Schmidt’s impressive flower gardens. Schmidt is known for posting stunning floral arrangements on Facebook and for making great jam. “We have a ton of berry bushes and I make jam all summer long and give it away as gifts,” she adds.

 

The country life allows the busy couple to disconnect from work demands, although Schmidt explains the seclusion is far more important for Bill. “The reality is he is recognized wherever we go. It’s nice to be out here where he can wear his overalls, drive his tractor and be who

he is. And I just love it,” concludes Schmidt. w

 

 

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