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Peter J. Schmitt

Aug. 8, 2008

Dr. Peter J. Schmitt, longtime professor of history at Western Michigan University, died Aug. 6. He was 72.

Schmitt served as a professor of history at WMU for 43 years before retiring in April. He regularly traveled hundreds of miles each week to teach classes at the University's regional centers. He also was a frequent speaker at various seminars on history-related topics and obtained grant money to undertake a photographic survey of the Lake Michigan shoreline from New Buffalo to Ludington, with Schmitt serving as the project's director. An architectural historian, Schmitt regularly gave lectures from Benton Harbor to Kalamazoo to Jackson on local architecture.

Schmitt was deeply involved in preserving Kalamazoo County's historical past. In the early 1980s, he joined local historian and author Larry Massie and began sifting through dusty archives for an upcoming book, "Kalamazoo: The Place Behind the Products, a Pictorial History." The project, supported by the Kalamazoo County Chamber of Commerce, was intended to produce a "once-in-a-lifetime" history book. The book he co-authored with Massie was a companion piece to his earlier bicentennial book "Nineteenth Century Homes in a Midwestern Village," which takes readers on a pictorial tour of Kalamazoo's historic districts.

Schmitt also was co-author of a similar illustrated history of Battle Creek with Massie. Titled "Battle Creek: The Place Behind the Products," the book was published in 1985.

As a faculty associate in the WMU Archives and Regional History Collections, Schmitt worked with the county clerk's office to painstakingly archive and catalogue old records dating back to the early days of Kalamazoo's founding.

Schmitt also researched the history of many old homes in the area, leading to these locations being designated as historic by the City of Kalamazoo Historical Commission. He sought and was awarded funding from various organizations to further local efforts to recognize and preserve Kalamazoo's architectural inheritance. These historical homes were featured in an ongoing series of articles in the mid-1970s in the Kalamazoo Gazette.

He earned a doctoral degree in American studies from the University of Minnesota in 1966 and master's degrees in English and history from the University of Iowa in 1960 and 1959, respectively. He earned a bachelor's in history from the University of Minnesota in 1958.

A visitation is scheduled for 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 10, at Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo. Funeral services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Monday, Aug. 11 at St. Thomas More Student Parish, 421 Monroe St., Kalamazoo.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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