By LORAINE ANDERSON
TRAVERSE CITY — Art Schmuckal, local philanthropist and founder of Schmuckal Oil Company, died at Munson Medical Center surrounded by the family he loved in the hospital he long helped support.
He died Wednesday at age 91.
"Life was good to me," he told family and friends at a birthday gathering this year. "It's important to give back"
And Schmuckal did, friends and colleagues said.
Schmuckal, whose company has owned the area's Shell Oil gas station/convenience store franchise since 1955, is known and respected for his long support of Munson Medical Center, Northwestern Michigan College and its University Center, Dennos Museum and Milliken Auditorium, as well at Grand Traverse Area Catholic schools and churches.
Friends described him as a visionary and generous leader, kind, fun and a "giant among men" who led and raised funds by example.
He also had a great sense of humor and an ability to make people feel good about themselves.
"He was a true community leader and wonderful philanthropist," said Marsha Smith, executive director of Rotary Charities.
Schmuckal was born to Hannah farmers in 1920.
In 1937, the family moved to Chums Corner. He took over farm duties at age 23 and three years later became Blair Township supervisor.
He served as supervisor for nine years, including three years as chairman of the Grand Traverse County Board of Supervisors, a predecessor of today's county commission. He also served 24 years on the Grand Traverse Road Commission.
He and Mary Hoffer of Petoskey married in 1945 and raised four children: Barbara, Don, Paul and Evelyn.
In 1955, Schmuckal and business partner George Slane started two small service stations. He eventually bought out Slane and created the Schmuckal Oil Company, which grew into 28 gas station/mini marts from Grand Traverse County to Holland, he said in a video made at his birthday gathering this year.
He and Mary were active NMC supporters. The Schmuckals also played key fundraising roles in the creation of NMC's University Center, Dennos Museum Center and Milliken Auditorium in the 1980s and 1990s.
"He was a college supporter and fundraiser from the beginning," said NMC President Tim Nelson.
"I can remember him telling me, 'I don't ever want to offend someone for asking for too little.'
A gallery at the Dennos Museum Center is named for Art and Mary Schmuckal.
Museum director Eugene Jenneman said the couple was among the first to commit funding to the museum project.
"He said he didn't know anything about art, but he knew the project was important to the community and that was why he supported it."
NMC Foundation executive director Rebecca Teahan said Schmuckal also was co-chairman of the University Center two-year campaign drive. The goal was $5.9 million and the amount raised was $8.6 million, which included $125,000 from the Schmuckals.
Schmuckal donations since the inception of the NMC Foundation in 1980 total almost $700,000.
The Art and Mary Schmuckal Family Foundation was established in 1999 after Mary's death. It contributed $250,000 to Munson's emergency room expansion project in 2005 and also was one of the first to make a multiple-year commitment to the new Kids Creek Cancer Center now under construction, said Desiree Worthington, Munson Regional Health Care Foundation president.
"He was a great man," Worthington said. "He instilled the value of giving to people around him and to his family."
Mike Buell, superintendent of GTACS, called him a "giant among men."
"Many know him because of his generosity to the community. He really was a generous spirit. Our schools are remarkably better because of his support."
Schmuckal was a member of St. Mary's of Hannah's first graduating class and served on the first Catholic school board in the area, and as part of the advisory committee for the new St. Francis High School in 1963.
He and Mary were leaders, too, in planning and building support for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Middle School and also served on committees to build the St. Francis Church in 1977 and St. Patrick Church in 1985.
Schmuckal's funeral is scheduled for Nov. 21 at 11 a.m. at St. Patrick's Catholic Church, 630 W. Silver Lake Road South.
A full obituary will run in Sunday's Record-Eagle. A death notice in today's paper provides the visitation schedule.