A milestone 95 years in the making

COURTESY PHOTO Margaret Schmidt holds the amaryllis that was given to her mother on the day Margaret was born, Feb. 21, 1927. She and her amaryllis will be celebrating 95 years together on her birthday next month. Schmidt painted the watercolor white lilies on the wall behind her.

Margaret Schmidt of Lane and her salmon-colored amaryllis will be celebrating a milestone next month — 95 years together.

“This amaryllis was actually given to my mother when I was born, Feb. 21, 1927,” said Schmidt, who was born in Crow Lake Township southwest of Wessington Springs. “It was given to her by a woman named Maggie. I don’t know how long Maggie had the plant before giving it to my mom.”

Even after nearly 95 years, her amaryllis still continues to produce new bulbs and blooms faithfully twice a year, around Christmas and in the summer in June or July.

“Every so often I have to repot it,” she said. “I just water it about twice a week, Sundays and Wednesdays, other than that I don’t do anything special for it. It’s kind of like me, it just hangs in there. It’s kind of tough.”

Schmidt left her amaryllis in the care of her mother when she left home at the age of 21 to marry Wilfred Schmidt. They lived in Pierre five years while her husband worked on building the Oahe Dam, before returning to the Sanborn and Jerauld County area. She began caring for the amaryllis that marked her birth following her mother’s death in the 1970s.

“I worked at Van Dyke’s sculpting animal bodies and doing artwork for 28 years,” said Schmidt, who is a talented, award-winning artist. “We moved to Lane in 1980 and I designed the floor plans of our house that was built by Lamperts in Huron and put on a lot here in Lane.

“I designed other floor plans, a double school house and the 1905 Opera House in Wessington Springs,” she added. “The opera house was in disrepair; in fact, it was used as a firehouse for a while, there was oil on the floor. The historical society bought it for a dollar. They were going to tear it down. We renovated it, a group of us.”

Along with restoring the main floor of the opera house with a stage and seating, they put in dressing rooms upstairs leading directly to the stage and restructured the basement to add a bathroom and storage. They also expanded the available space by building the Kyle Evans Addition, which Schmidt also designed.

“I have a way I can see things before they are built, it helps me with designing buildings,” Schmidt said. “After the opera house was built, a man said ‘This is really nice, did you know it would look like this?’ I said, ‘Yes, I did,’ because I saw it in my head.

“I know that  it all has been lovingly granted to me by the Good Lord!” she exclaims.

Art has always been a passion for Schmidt for as long as she can remember. When she was a student in country school, her teachers would ask her to draw pictures for the other students to color. She once won a clothes dryer from the electric company by drawing a picture and writing a poem about the appliance.

Since her 80th birthday, she has entered artwork in the Dakota MastersWorks Art Show sponsored by the South Dakota HealthCare Association. Almost everything she has ever sent for the show has won a distinction.

“I’ve enjoyed painting ever since country school,” she said. “I took art class as a senior in high school, a commercial class through the mail from Minneapolis. I graduated from that in 1946. Ever since then I did commercial artwork, freelance, taught art in area schools for four years through a government program, and then taught art classes in my basement for 34 years.”

While teaching art through the government program, she traveled weekly to each country school in Jerauld County and half of the schools in Buffalo County. One of the teachers she worked with asked her if she would be willing to teach an adult art class in the evening in the teacher’s home.

When Schmidt and her husband made plans to move to Lane in 1983, she decided to design her floor plan with good lighting and ample space in the basement so she could teach art in her home.

“I started teaching art in the basement in 1983 when I had the house built, and I worked there until I was 90 when I gave the house to my son, Don, who lives there now,” she added. “He put a trailer house next door and we’re just neighbors. I like that a lot.”

Don’s home had been destroyed by fire and he and his wife were looking for a new one. “I thought I don’t need this big house anymore,” she added.

Schmidt has four sons, Jim and Steve of Huron, John, a world-famous sculptor who lives in Woonsocket, Don who lives in Lane, and one daughter, Gayle Tescher of Hot Springs, who is also a talented artist. She has nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

She remembers Gayle, their second-born child, was disappointed after learning her mother had given birth to baby brother No. 4. “My mother-in-law was staying with the kids, and told me Gayle went to bed with her doll that night and said this is as close as I’ll ever get to a sister.”

If there’s a secret to enjoying a long and healthy life, Schmidt claims it is keeping your mind and your body busy.

“Don’t be sitting around,” she said. “I love dancing, working with art, working with the opera house. Even now, I still keep going. I’ll be 95 in February. I still walk without a cane and I can drive, although I don’t drive a lot anymore. I don’t think it’s safe for someone this old to be driving too much.”

When the pandemic started, the line dancing group she was active in had to quit meeting.

“We had an instructor about four years older than I was,” Schmidt said. “I do put on some music and dance here at home sometimes, just because I want to keep active. I eat a lot of vegetables and fruit. I’ve never smoked and drink very seldom.

“I’ve had a good, blessed life,” Schmidt said. “Right at the moment I’m very concerned for our country — the COVID, politics, climate change — there’s just problems in the country I wish I could control, but I can’t. All I can do is pray. I have had a lot of answered prayers. I know prayer is powerful.”