Of all the things associated with the word aviation, missionary is probably not the first one that comes to mind. You might come up with pilot, stewardess or air traffic controller right away, but missionary aviation is most likey one of the last pairings you'd arrive at. But for East Bank Mechanic Stephen Schmidt, those two words have been closely associated since birth.
Born to missionaries in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Schmidt spent his first seven years in missions overseas. Upon his arrival in the Midwest, his parent's ministry continued to influence him, as did a growing interest in mechanics and how things work.
"Preaching in front of people or talking in public scared me to death," remembered Schmidt. "When I found out that I could fly a plane and still be a missionary, I was like, 'Well that's cool!'"
Schmidt spent most of his adolescent years in North Branch, Minn., save for a year and a half in Wheaton, Ill., and his senior year of high school in Princeton, Minn. He did maintenance work for the nursing home his father was a missionary at during high school, which gave him some exposure to mechanical endeavors.
Schmidt graduated from Princeton High School and went on to attend Grand Rapids School of Bible and Music, where he completed their missionary aviation program. During the program he spent three years training as a pilot and two as a mechanic.
After school Schmidt joined a mission in Peru, where he worked as an airplane mechanic for a year. He couldn't fly there because he didn't know Spanish and therefore would not have passed the Peruvian pilot's exam. His group flew missionaries, supplies, students and sick natives to and from jungle settlements.
"In the jungle, you could spend a week going somewhere on a river or fly there in an hour," said Schmidt.
Upon returning from Peru, Schmidt helped build a light twin pusher airplane in Orange City, Iowa, for which some of the proceeds would go to missions. He then spent two years working for a small commuter airline in Spencer, Iowa, before moving on to a United Airlines feeder service in South Bend, Indiana. Schmidt's Airline career ended after a three year stint with Northwest Airlines, when they downsized in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy. He then worked in the semi-truck business for a few years before landing at the U in 2009.
Steve and his wife Cindy have been married for more than twenty years. The couple lives in Inver Grove Heights and has four children: Caleb (20), Joshua (18), Abby (16) and Elizabeth (14).
Schmidt hasn't flown in years, because the cost of flying is too prohibitive. He says that he would have probably become a pilot, but when he got his pilot's license many of the pilots from Vietnam were returning and cornered the job market.
His boys have caught the flying bug, though. They both participated in Civil Air Patrol, which teaches teens how to fly and become leaders. Schmidt's not sure yet whether they'll stick with flying, but Caleb is enrolled at Moody Bible College in Chicago, so there's still hope that missionary aviation will continue on in the family.