Alfreda Schmidt has helped build the City of Lansing into what it is today, and although she’s 86 years old — an age some might consider retirement-ready — she isn’t done yet. She’s a woman whose accomplishment list is taller than she is; it is hard to pick a good place to start her story. So she started at the top — literally — with her hats. “I adore hats. When I was in school I saved up my meal passes and sold them so I could buy a hat for $67. It was a fabulous hat, I wore that hat all the time,” said Schmidt. “I think it comes from growing up on a farm. When you’re a farm girl you had to chase the chickens and the pigs and to keep the sun off you, you had to wear a hat.” After covering all the important hat basics, including the appropriate way to wear a hat and the true story behind the pill-box hat, as well as exploring Schmidt’s “hat room,” it was time to get down to business. When the discussion turned to her involvement with the city, Schmidt, who grew up in nearby Dansville, recalls each event, each position and almost every person with exact detail. Spanning decades of community service and countless projects, Schmidt claims the key to each project’s success was listening to what people had to say about it. “It was my opinion, in order to understand the real problem you had to listen. What prompted me was that people would ask what I could do to help them with this and that, so it seemed listening was the most effective way to understand. Especially when they were willing to tell you,” Schmidt said. But she didn’t do it alone — when a phone call would come to the house, Schmidt’s late husband Frank would take Lansing’s leading lady all over the city in hopes of solving just one more problem. “Often my husband would drive me and let me spend a lot of time if I needed. I think it makes the situation much easier if you have other people to help and that give you their opinion or advice because there are usually two sides to the story,” said Schmidt. And it is that same ideology that Schmidt lives by. “It’s always been my thinking that you never do anything alone. And I believe that is true in everything I have done,” Schmidt said. With four children (Pam, Jim, Bill and Bob), a husband and numerous volunteering activities, Schmidt was rarely alone. Schmidt’s daughter, Pam, recalls growing up with a mother who was always involved. “It gives you a broad spectrum on how communities work together. I remember my brother Bill knew about world issues when he was only in kindergarten. There were always discussions about community projects, and there were always meetings because you knew how much planning and effort went into a project. And you learned how important it was that you were part of them because nothing gets done by yourself,” Pam said. “My father was very supportive of her involvement, they didn’t always agree on things, but there were always lively discussion about different aspects.” Nodding in agreement, Schmidt recalls one of her favorite projects and how much dedication and planning it took, as well as how many people helped to make it happen. “We had to raise $250,000, bring in large pieces of equipment and find thousands of volunteers to help (for the Hawk Island playground project). And we did. We had 2,000 volunteers; boys from the football team, girls from the school and people from the community came to help. Many came to help for several days even though it rained six of the seven days. It didn’t sprinkle, it rained,” Schmidt said. Over her career Schmidt has participated in numerous events and chaired countless large projects to better the community in which she lives. Schmidt has a strong and undeniable passion for what she does and is proud to have been part of such wonderful changes in Lansing. To recognize her dedication and immeasurable contribution to the city, Mayor of Lansing Virg Bernero announced in September that the South Side Community Center, for which Schmidt was part of the committee, would be re-dedicated to Schmidt and will be known as the Alfreda Schmidt Community Center. To share this news with Schmidt, the Mayor of Lansing set up a small surprise for the former councilwoman. “I’ll tell you the truth, I can’t talk to you unless I tell you the truth,” Schmidt, said. “I looked terrible, I didn’t have any make up on, I didn’t think that for what I thought we were doing it was necessary,” she said. “But then the mayor came in with flowers and informed me that he was not here to do what I thought. I was very humbled, I asked him, ‘Did you ask other people about this? Do you know what this means?’ I am just delighted, and feel so honored that this whole thing is permanent.” The community center dedication took place on Wednesday, Sept. 12 and consisted of numerous city officials thanking Schmidt for her contribution to Lansing. True to form Schmidt donned a perfectly placed floral hat and thanked everyone she could as she viewed the placard (with a photo of her in the same fabulous floral hat) that will be placed outside of the community center. Schmidt’s career simply can’t be covered in a single sitting, but it can be perfectly summed up by her explanation of what kept her going all these years. “Doing something that might help someone may be a challenge, but I would take the challenge to help someone than not try at all,” said Schmidt. “That’s what it means to achieve something worthwhile.”
Ami Iceman-Hauter is the Brand Manager at M3 Group in downtown Lansing. Iceman is a graduate of Michigan State University with a bachelors degree in creative advertising.