Jerry Spencer remembers sitting on the Atwater City Council in the mid-1990s, conducting interview after interview in search of a new police chief for the central Minnesota town, population 1,100.
Reed Schmidt stood out. Social, friendly and outgoing, “he just seemed like the man for the position,” Spencer said.
The chief spent the next 15 years making residents feel safe.
“And with the town not having much for crime, we knew he was doing his job,” Spencer said.
Schmidt died from cancer on Dec. 27. He was 67.
Schmidt already knew the area, having gone to high school in nearby Willmar. His widow, Mary Schmidt, said he liked helping people so much that growing up he told people he would either be a policeman or a pastor.
He chose policing, and after graduating from the academy in the 1970s, Schmidt served stints in Perham, Minn., Madison, Minn., and at the Hennepin County Medical Center.
When Schmidt came to Atwater in 1996 — a town where the closest grocery store is about 15 miles away — Spencer said there were problems with break-ins and drug trafficking.
“Pretty soon we didn’t have any,” Spencer said.
Schmidt described his style as “old-school” in an interview with the Willmar newspaper in 2012. He wanted to get out of his squad car and talk with people.
His widow said he would often work split shifts. He wanted to be there in the mornings as kids boarded the bus for school. Then he wanted to be there after bar closing, when people who had too much to drink would call Schmidt for a ride home.
Schmidt got state money for a K-9 partner, Max, whom he brought to schools. Max would sit out in the hallways as Schmidt helped the kids hide synthetic drugs in a classroom. Max always found the drugs, and “the kids just loved it,” Mary Schmidt said.
He served as a contractor training police in Iraq from 2003 to 2004. When he returned to Atwater, he found small towns could be dangerous, too. In 2006, while Schmidt and Max were sitting in his squad, they were rammed from behind by a van driven by a town resident who was mentally ill. The resident started to attack him. Mary Schmidt said her husband could feel himself losing consciousness. He reached for his gun and shot the attacker in the stomach.
Schmidt survived, but he lost sight in his right eye. Max suffered injuries and would succumb to them a year later. The attacker was sentenced to prison.
Schmidt spent four months off duty before coming back.
“He just loved the job,” Mary Schmidt said.
And Atwater loved him. When other nearby towns were getting rid of police departments in favor of letting county sheriffs do the work, Spencer said Atwater chose to keep Schmidt.
After retiring in 2012, he won a seat on the City Council. In March 2017, he began getting crippling headaches. His wife asked if he wanted to go the doctor. He said yes.
“My heart just dropped,” she said. “He’s not one that would go to the doctor unless something is majorly wrong.”
He was diagnosed with brain cancer. After surgery and several months on chemotherapy, he hoped he had it beat. But in November, doctors found the cancer had traveled to his spine. He didn’t want any more treatments but hoped to make it through Christmas. He did, dying in his home Dec. 27.
Besides his wife, Reed is survived by five children: Heidi Heller of Roseville, Paul Schmidt of Atwater, Clint Schmidt of Apple Valley, Sara Jahn of Blaine and Lyle Schmidt of Atwater; and two stepdaughters, Megan Lensing of Liberty Hill, Texas, and Emily Daun of Fargo.
Services have been held.