Eugene David Schmitz

July 29th, 1947 - June 26th, 2023


On a warm morning in August 1977, a line of bicycles slowly peddled along old Route 93 southward toward Stevensville. That day an adventure began with all the joys and challenges that life in a slow lane includes. On that day the group was led by Eugene David Schmitz, just recently arrived in Missoula from Racine, Wisconsin. He was ready for a life of outdoor adventures.

Gene was born on July 1947 to William and Margaret Malone Schmitz. He joined two older brothers, Richard, and John, in adventures along the shore of Lake Michigan, nearly losing his life when he fell into the wintery lake as his older brothers were inattentive to his presence and when his older brother hit him just above the eye with a golf club while hitting rocks along the shore. He survived two open heart surgeries in 1956 and in 2019 to be able to enjoy life’s activities including bicycling, cross-country skiing, and scuba diving. He graduated from Marquette University with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and from Columbia University with a MA in Physical Education and an EdM in Exercise Science.

In 1976, he led a group westward on Bike Centennial and then settled in Missoula, where he met Nancy Brooks on the above-mentioned bike ride. They were married in August 1978 at a Pattee Canyon picnic site. He purchased the Old Town Café and spent seven years enjoying Montana. Adventure soon lured him away to New York City for graduate school as Nancy joined the Columbia faculty, then to Kansas City, and onward to Guam where he taught science, then to ten years of retirement in Hawaii, and finally back to Missoula seven years ago. Highlights of the family’s adventures included over 1000 dives in warm waters all over the world, safaris and a balloon ride over the savannah in Kenya, a small plane ride over the Kenyan Rift Valley, a biplane ride over erupting Kilauea in Hawaii, kayaking with humpback whales in Alaska, bicycle touring in Ireland, an elephant safari and bamboo raft trip in Thailand, as well as crawling through tunnels in Egyptian pyramids, tombs in Ireland, and ancient ruins in Pohnpei and Kosrae. Retirement in Hawaii allowed more time for biking, diving, and playing tennis. A second retirement in Montana encouraged biking in Montana, Idaho, and Wisconsin as well as spending more time with family and writing about bicycle safety in the Missoulian and serving on the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Board.

Gene’s last adventure was with the dual diseases of Lymphoma and Metastatic Squamous Cell Cancer. This last type of cancer was encouraged under a winter tanning light in Wisconsin when he was a child, as well as summers spent in shorts and little else. It was nurtured by sunscreen-less and shirtless tennis in Guam. It aged and spread in the cloistered years surrounding COVID. By the time it was diagnosed, this cancer silently had already taken over his body. Please do not look at skin cancer as minor. It can be deadly if not caught and treated immediately.

Gene Schmitz is survived by his wife, Nancy, of nearly 45 years, his stepdaughter Wendy Brooks Bond, a granddaughter, Brittany Challinor (Christopher), two grandsons, Brookland Swingley (Caitlin) and Joshua Lathom (Raine), as well as six great-grandchildren, Bailee, Ryann, and Carsynn Swingley, Ashton Challinor, Juniper Lathom, and Garey Barnes. Gene is also survived by his brothers, Richard (Sidna) and John Schmitz, along with nieces, Julie Carlton (Jesse) and Mary Parker (Rob), nephews, William (Katie), Paul, and Michael Schmitz, along with great nieces and nephews Ashley and Robbie Parker, Emma and Tyler Schmitz, and John and Alexander Carlton.

Please send donations in Gene’s memory to Freecycles ( or to the International Children’s Surgical Foundation ( A Celebration of Life is being planned for September.

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