Reinhardt Schmoll: Humanist. Citizen. Leader. Tennis ace. Born Jan. 20, 1932, in Becmen, Serbia; died July 12, 2019, in Woodstock, Ont., of asthma-related complications; aged 87.
Near the end of the Second World War, Reinhardt Schmoll’s German community was uprooted from what was then Yugoslavia and relocated to a displaced persons’ camp in Austria. Reinhardt was the youngest of five children and after the war, his 19-year-old brother, Stefan, who had been conscripted into the German army, did not return. Their parents sent 13-year-old Reinhardt to find him, since anyone under 14 could travel without hard-to-come-by identity papers.
He criss-crossed Austria and Germany, travelling on foot, by train (if he could sneak on) or by car, when he hitchhiked. After six months and several thousand kilometres, he heard in Munich that Stefan might be hiding out on a farm nearby. He walked all night to be reunited. After helping the farmer with his harvest, the boys travelled back to Austria together.
For seven more years, Reinhardt’s family remained in the Austrian camp. It was here, in 1949, that Reinhardt began courting the charming Ellie Kondert, who became the love of his life. As a German refugee from Romania, she and her family would immigrate to the United States, but the couple kept in touch by mail.
Reinhardt soon embarked on his own Atlantic crossing, arriving at Pier 21, Halifax, in July, 1952. From there, he took the train to Woodstock, Ont., where he put down new roots and organized immigration for the rest of his relatives.
As a new Canadian, Reinhardt flew to South Dakota in 1955 to make Ellie his bride, brought her to Woodstock and started a family. He perfected his English, beefed up his education and joined the engineering department at a Woodstock tube manufacturer, where he became general manager.
He loved diving into epic debates about politics, religion and the meaning of life. Lubricated by single-malt scotch, these lively discussions sometimes required Ellie to restore order. He believed strongly in democracy and would contribute to all political parties, stating in his commanding bass, “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
“Reinie” could be counted on for a listening ear, a practical solution or a hardy hug and would move heaven and Earth to help others. In the 1970s, he and Ellie sponsored a family of Vietnamese boat people with whom they remained in contact over decades. For years, he was a popular Big Brother, since he had a knack for turning lives around. And when his best friend was debilitated by multiple sclerosis, Reinhardt would drive him around the countryside in the man’s vintage red Morgan.
Always pursuing perfection, he pushed himself and those around him. When expanding their 1960s bungalow, Reinhardt pressed his family into service, teaching them painfully precise construction skills. One year, he decided to canoe Ontario’s 273-kilometre Thames River, but Ellie mutinied when they reached the congested Chatham section.
A superb tennis player, Reinhardt persuaded the local golf club to build tennis courts. Later in life, he would go on the night shift to watch the Australian Open live on TV.
After he retired, Reinhardt completed a degree in history and philosophy from Western University and continued to enjoy the arts by supporting the Stratford and Shaw festivals.
Reinhardt’s legacy lives on, but the world will never be the same. It has lost an amazing man.
E. Lisa Moses is Reinhardt’s niece.
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