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Marine makes lasting gift for TCU history students

11/10/2011 10:48 PM

11/11/2011 10:14 AM

FORT WORTH -- Marine Lance Cpl. Benjamin Schmidt's preparations for deployment to Afghanistan in September included the somber task of deciding how he wanted to distribute a $400,000 life insurance policy.

But Schmidt laid out meticulous plans that kept his dreams alive in the event he didn't make it back.

He wanted his mother to get $200,000.

He also wanted $200,000 to be used to create an endowment in history for Texas Christian University, where he attended classes before enlisting in the Marines.

Schmidt, 24, died Oct. 6 during a combat mission in the Helmand province in Afghanistan, where he was a scout sniper.

His father, David Schmidt, is working with TCU to set up an endowment that would give a graduate student in history a scholarship of about $20,000 to $25,000 every fall.

"He loved history," David Schmidt said in a telephone interview. "He was going to go back to TCU. He really wanted to be a history professor."

Marines over college

Benjamin Schmidt, who tended to his partying more than his studies, might seem an unlikely source for an academic endowment.

When he first applied to TCU, he didn't get in, but he was granted an interview and talked his way in, in fall 2006, his father recalled.

"He was very magnetic -- just one of those people who could take over a room," he said.

After three semesters, Benjamin decided that school wasn't for him.

"He was one of those kids who were not ready for college," his father said.

One day his son suddenly told him: "I'm wasting your money. I'm joining the Marines."

David Schmidt wasn't happy, but 31/2 years in the Marines clearly had a positive impact on Benjamin. He matured and said he wanted to return to college.

"He loved the discipline of the Marines. It is very, very difficult training," his father said. And through it all, he also found time to continue his studies, reading while on duty overseas a book about the English occupation of Afghanistan.

His criteria for the Benjamin W. Schmidt Memorial Scholarship Fund reflect how serious higher education became for him.

The scholarships must be awarded to a student at the beginning of each fall semester. Students considered for the scholarships must have a minimum grade-point average of 3.0 and be a graduate student in history. They must also be involved in community service.

David Schmidt said he decided to match his son's contribution and, with the help of donations, pushed the fund's total to about $465,000.

"It's going to go forever," David Schmidt explained. "We will only use the interest."

TCU is working out the details of how to select each recipient. The first award is expected to be made next fall for the 2012-13 academic year.

'Selfless gesture'

Nancy Petruso, associate vice chancellor and chief of staff in university advancement, said TCU is touched by the gift, which will help many students.

"It's a tragic story, but it is such a heartwarming story, too," she said. "It's such a selfless gesture."

David Schmidt, team doctor for the San Antonio Spurs, said he will continue to work toward building the endowment so more students can have the chance to live out his son's dream.

Benjamin Schmidt was a 2006 graduate of Alamo Heights High School in the San Antonio area. He received numerous military honors, including the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Combat Valor, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and Purple Heart. He is buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio.

"He was a good soldier and a good man," David Schmidt said.

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675

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