Terry Schmidt, founder of TJ Schmidt & Company, passed away on July 21, from complications due to Leukemia. One of the leading Michigan-based, families –owned carnival companies, TJ Schmidt was formed in 2008 as a spin-off company of Arnold Amusements.
Terry Schmidt was remembered as a hard worker, dedicated to the carnival industry and Michigan fairs, whose favorite aspect of the business was the opportunity to work with his family. “He enjoyed all aspects of the carnival business, but his pride and joy was working side-by-side with his family,” said Doug Burtch, Business Manager. “He always wanted his family involved. You look across the fair industry, you find 2nd and 3rd generations running the carnivals, and that speaks to the industry and how hard we work, generation after generation. Terry loved his family and having his family together meant the most to him.”
Visible & Approachable
Schmidt was definitely not one of those carnival company operators who ran the midway from a distant office. Burtch describes him as “very hands-on. He was very visible and very approachable, he worked side-by-side. He was very good at running the entire company, from transportation, to rides and safety to managing food concessions, he knew it all and he worked very hard.”
While he may have “enjoyed all aspects” of the business, Burtch admits that his favorite aspects was the rides. “He loved the machinery the most, not just the rides but the trailers and trucks. But, his favorite piece was the Tilt-A-Whirl. He loved that piece.”
In addition to hard work, industry dedication and carnival expertise, Burtch pointed out that Schmidt was best known for his integrity. “Above all, he was always a man of his word. Fairs trusted him, if he said we are going to do something, we did it. His word was relied upon. We all looked to him as a leader and the final decision maker.”
He added, “Specifically, when we are dealing with fair boards and members of festival committees, they really appreciate we are a family company. They are very comfortable with us because of the trust they had in Terry, who’ve they dealt with for years. There’s been a real outpouring of condolences and support from our fair and festival partners.”
TJ Schmidt & Company was formed in 2008 by Schmidt and his wife Sandy, formerly Sandy Arnold. Far from being new to the carnival industry, both were second generation carnival workers who grew up in the industry while their parents, Sherman and Joy Schmidt and Ivan and Agnes Arnold, managed units on the Glenn Wade-owned, Michigan based, W.G. Wade Shows. From 1982 until the close of the 2007 season, they owned and operated a large amount of equipment with the Schmidt Amusement Carnival which was founded by Terry’s parents.
According to the company’s website: “The TJ Schmidt & Company workforce has a reputation for being family friendly, courteous, polite and helpful. All of our employees are required to report to work well-groomed and in uniform. Employees are subject to random drug screening and follow a non-smoking policy while on the job. Many of our employees have worked with our company for many years which speaks to our family oriented style of conducting business.”
The company features more than 20 rides, and a wide array of games and specialty food, stands and a host of customer amenities. Sandy Schmidt serves as Food Service Specialist, handling the company’s food & beverage operations. Sandy and Terry’s sons, Josh and Kyle Schmidt – the third generation –serve as general manager have gradually taken over the daily operations of the company.
After the sale of W.G. Wade Shows, the Arnold and Schmidt families spun off into separate companies, but always worked in the Michigan market. Burtch explained that “it was a very natural progression for the families, none of us were interested in scaling beyond Michigan, where we have a sustainable business plan and long standing relationships.”
Using an analogy well-suited to a carnival company veteran known for his mechanical expertise, Schmidt has left behind a “well-oiled machine” of a company. Currently, TJ Schmidt & Company is more focused on getting through the 2018 fair season in the wake of the loss of its patriarch, postponing any announcements regarding management replacement. “Internally, after the season we will be looking at what comes next. We have not made any decisions on how we will be restructuring. It’s business as usual for now, and keeping those decisions on hold until we can evaluate how we will move forward.”
Tom Arnold, the brother of Sandy Schmidt and brother-in-law to Terry – now owner of Arnold Amusements - one of the companies spun-off from the original W.G. Wade Shows— remembered Terry Schmidt as a close friend who worked together as younger men. “We had cookouts, we loved to ride minibikes. We used to have a little trailer, where we played cards, hangout, have fun.”
He added, “He was a real hard worker, he was more of a manager He ran the rides, the ticket boxes, always worked hard for his family and for his two boys. “
The two sides of the family always found time to get together, whether working some late winter fairs in Florida or meeting at restaurants when they were playing Michigan fairs that were in close proximity to each other. “If we were close by and had night off, we would always go out to eat together.”
He added, “he loved his family, he always put them first. What he loved the most about the carnival business is putting smiles on people’s family. He was a hard worker.”