FEATURE ARTICLE from The Morning Journal, 6-22-03, By RON VIDIKA, Morning Journal Writer
``AVON -- Whether soaring in the pilot's seat of a Cessna or safely at ease on the ground, former aviation instructor Jim Schmitz is flying high these days, as a key player in the growing membership of Avon Seniors.
Schmitz, 70, Avon, recently completed a two-year term as president of the fledgling, not-for-profit group that serves as a sentinel, advocate and common voice for the needs and interests of the city's estimated 3,000 senior citizens.
''Seniors can be neglected, and they have needs that need to be met,'' said Schmitz.
''We provide socialization opportunities, such as dinners, card parties, lunches, at least a half dozen bus trips to Michigan, Pennsylvania, and a tour of the Longaberger Basket company in Ohio, things like that,'' said Schmitz.
He credited the founding of the group to the former president of Avon City Council, Shaun Brady.
''Shaun conceived the idea of a seniors group and sent letters to seniors in Avon to promote the idea and gain their interest,'' said Schmitz.
After an initial meeting that attracted about 20 seniors, the interest in Avon Seniors and membership snowballed.
''We started out two years ago as a brand new organization,'' said Schmitz. ''Our membership is now at 570.''
Schmitz was born and raised in Sheffield Village and has lived in Avon for 40 years.
He and his wife, Eloise, have been married 42 years and have two adult sons, Benjamin and James, and seven grandchildren.
Schmitz worked for the federal government for 28 years.
''I worked for the Office of Personnel Management out of Cleveland. I still do consulting work on a limited basis for the federal government,'' he said.
But his lifetime joy has been soaring through the wild blue yonder.
''My lifetime avocation and hobby is flying,'' said Schmitz.
''In the Air Force, I was a navigator and a bombardier. After the Air Force, I became an instructor pilot and taught flying at the Lorain County Airport,'' he said.
''It's a freedom that you don't have anywhere else,'' said Schmitz about flying.
''It's a real strict discipline. It requires all of your attention and focus. You can't go out and casually fly. It's very demanding and requires training and self-discipline. I enjoy the freedom of just being able to take off and fly to, say, the Upper Peninsula (of Michigan) or to Florida,'' said Schmitz.
''My wife enjoys flying, up to an extent. She's not thrilled like I am. She flies to get there; not for the pleasure of getting there,'' said Schmitz.
He's applied that same focus and drive to Avon Seniors ... [The] efforts of Avon Seniors include the Vial of Life, a pill vial stored in the refrigerator that contains all of the essential medical information about the individual should the need arise for help from paramedics.
''If there is an emergency, when paramedics arrive, they see the Vial of Life sticker on the front door and know that there is the Vial of Life in the refrigerator with the information they need to help that person,'' said Schmitz.
Still on Schmitz's agenda is an attempt to provide ''lock boxes'' for the city's seniors population.
''A lock box is what real estate people use on the front doors of homes they're showing. It's opened by a common key. In our case, cops or fire fighters would have in their possession a key to that person's lock box in case of an emergency, so they don't have to break in,'' said Schmitz.
Yet another lifesaver Schmitz would like to see become a reality for the city's seniors is a button they can push at home which summons paramedics.
In addition, Avon Seniors is also looking at ways to provide transportation to its seniors for the everyday trips to the grocery store, the bank, the pharmacy and the doctor's office, said Schmitz ...
Having ended his two-year term as president of Avon Seniors, Schmitz is still on the group's board of directors and is still a major force .
The new president of the group is Helen Schatschneider.
Last March, when the Avon Seniors had a membership drive, a secretary for the group came up with a winning plan, said Schmitz.
''Sue Cory, our recording secretary, came up with an idea and it was a beautiful one,'' said Schmitz.
''If an existing member brings in a new member, they get a free, one-year membership,'' said Schmitz, adding, ''Although the annual dues are just $5, we don't want money to be a problem for our seniors.''
Schmitz is not about to take full credit for his successful endeavors.
''It's not a one-man operation,'' he said. ''Honestly, I feel I have had a lot of help. In two years, I have had excellent cooperation. Like officers in the military who take the glory, it's always the sergeants who get it going.''
''I think an organization is basically only as good as the people in it. They're fantastic, conservative and hardworking. And there's a work ethic there, that's very, very strong,'' said Schmitz.''
Avon to 1974