Have You Met?

When Bill Schmidt was a young boy, he was always the one organizing and planning activities; and most of all; he loved to do magic tricks.

Bill’s interest in magic started in the 6th grade when he was growing up in Lamar, Colorado with his family that was in the ranching business. His parents gave him a magic set, and Bill took it to school and was so thrilled to be able to “mystify” his friends that he immediately developed an interest in becoming a magician.

Bill says: “I have continued to this day buying new magic tricks, and my wife threatens, from time to time, to sell the stuff in a large garage sale.” Today, he’s even set up a magic club at Kepner Middle School, through a new nonprofit program he’s involved with called “Go For It!” Bill also starts many of his lectures by doing a magic trick before he gets into the serious stuff.

Now, Bill does planning of a different kind; he is one of the most highly respected Estate Planning Attorneys in the country. Bill says he’s not a high-profile personality, “I’m just the person that is behind the scenes helping many people accomplish their objectives – and at the same time, explain the tax benefits of charitable giving.”

Mr. Schmidt was a founder of the Rocky Mountain Estate Planning Council and served as its first President. He has authored a number of estate planning publications and has authored two books on the subject of wills, trusts and estate planning: How to Live – and – Die – Without Colorado Probate and Preserving Your Wealth.

Bill is a frequent lecturer, and is listed in “The Best Lawyers in America,” “Who’s Who in American Law,” “Who’s Who in the West,” “Who’s Who in the World,” “Who’s Who in America” and “The Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers.”

Mr. Schmidt is the past Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Lutheran Medical Center Foundation, and he has served on the Board of Directors of Lutheran Hospital. He was on the National Planned Giving Advisory Council for the National Jewish Medical and Research Center, and is the Past President of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Foundation.

He is now serving on the Boards of the Bonfils Blood Center Foundation, the Marketing and Gifts Advisory Committee of The Denver Foundation, The Board of Directors of the Christian Chaplain Services, the Board of Directors of Saint Joseph Hospital Foundation, Goodwill Industries, the Young Philanthropist Foundation, and his newest venture with the nonprofit organization, Go For It!

Bill Schmidt shows no signs of slowing down and gratefully says: “I’ve got good health; I’ve got a wonderful wife; my kids have never been in trouble - they are all good citizens; and we are close as a family. I like what I do, so what else could I want. I consider it a joy to meet people, and what I do in my practice and in the community helps people. I could continue on like this forever.”


What is your fondest childhood memory? Doing my magic, and developing my leadership skills in grade school, because I was always wanting to boss my friends. I was the organizer of our play activities, so if we were going to be the seven dwarfs, I was the lead dwarf. If we were going to play jungle, I was always Tarzan.

What is a piece of wisdom your parents gave you that you will remember all your life? My father didn’t talk a lot, it was more the way my parents lived their lives that taught me the most.

Is there a charitable event you really look forward to attending each year? One that I really have come to appreciate is the Goodwill Industries Annual Luncheon. The reason I look forward to it is because they will honor people who have excelled in the community not only in terms of contributing to the Goodwill efforts, but those who have benefited from it, and you hear their stories and you hear how Goodwill really worked for them, and you realize that there really is hope.

A lot of people don’t realize how much Goodwill does, and associate them only with Thrift Stores. Two thirds of Goodwill’s activities are directed toward youth programs. They have had tremendous success in the high schools giving incentives to kids to graduate where maybe there is a 40 percent dropout rate; 95 percent of the kids who go through the Goodwill Programs do graduate and become effective members of the workforce.

You mentioned your affiliation with the “Go For It” organization. You seem really excited about what they are doing; can you tell us more about them? I was introduced to the “Go For It!” program only about 18 months ago by a client. I met the founder, Judy Zerafa, who is a well-known author and has appeared on many TV programs. Judy developed this program, for elementary school youth, which has the potential to completely change the face of a nation. Sounds rather expansive and dreamy, but I really feel it’s possible with this group.

The main basis of the program is that they go into elementary schools to reverse negative behavior before it develops. It is not as effective to do this in the high schools because a lot of the patterns have already been there for so long; it’s hard to change them. Judy follows the seven keys to success. Several of the keys are: To Keep a Positive Attitude, Make Wise Choices, and Be Persistent. A lot of the youth today have a very negative attitude about themselves and about society, and that translates itself into negative behavior and defeatism. This program teaches them to believe in themselves, how to conquer negative attitudes, and influences how to turn their lives around.

The dream of the “Go For It!” organization is teaching me that if we train young people when they still can be molded, they can better themselves and, eventually they will. Society will gradually be improved as a result of this matriculation. These kids realize that there is more hope out there than they knew there was.

Are there other organizations you would like to mention? Yes. My involvement with The Young Philanthropist Foundation. The Young Philanthropists have had a harder start and a difficult task. It’s all about training children to give back and their responsibility to help others. We are just one generation back to the Stone Age, if we don’t get more people involved in the delivery of services. Ultimately, it’s getting human lives investing in other human lives. We need to train kids on how to help others.

Youth are so important. The Denver Foundation, another great organization, talks about three motives for giving: religion, volunteerism, and a family culture. Most kids don’t have a culture of giving. I’m always shocked with wealthy clients who are unwilling to give; they have more money than they, or their families, will ever be able to spend and are still unwilling to consider charitable options.

The Young Philanthropists Foundation takes the place of the family and makes efforts to teach kids the important of giving and becoming part of the culture of giving that they aren’t getting in the family. It should become part of everyone’s spiritual and social contract to give back.

So how can those of us who believe it is important, get our young people more involved in charitable giving and volunteering? Again, you teach by example. An event that involved my stepchildren, Crystal and Darrell, when they were in grade school, is something they still talk about.

We had gone to King Soopers to pick up some groceries, and there was a man and a woman standing in front selling a puppy, so we stopped and chatted with them. I asked why they were selling the puppy, and they said: “We love the dog, and it’s breaking our heart, but we are trying to sell the dog to raise money because our older daughter lives in California, and she had been in an abusive relationship and was taken away to a place by Social Services, and we need the money so we can go get her and bring her back.”

The story sounded true, so I said: “How much do you want for the dog?” They told me how much they needed for the tickets, so I gave them the money, and they gave me the dog, and then I turned around and gave them the dog back. Crystal and Darrell asked: “Why did you give the dog back?” and I said: “Because the dog is very important to them, and they were giving up the dog to get their daughter back, and that the most important thing was helping them to do that, and we didn’t need another animal in our house.” They still remember that experience today.

You have a favorite story about a starfish; tell us what that is? It’s a story of a boy who was walking along the beach, and he was picking up starfish and throwing them back in the water. This older man stopped and asked him what he was doing. The boy said, “Well I’m saving the lives of the starfish.” “But look you can’t possible save them all, so it won’t make any difference,” the old man responded. The young boy said: “It will matter to this one!” That’s the starting point to remember that whatever you do will have a ripple effect, and that’s why you do it.

What is something people may not know about you? It costs money to pay me to do what I do. Occasionally there is someone who is referred to me who can’t afford to pay my fee, but they are in a difficult situation and really need help. I could choose to turn them down, but since I am fortunate to be considered one of the top estate planning attorneys in Denver, why should I be selfish with that, so I will give them the time for free. Here’s the key, I will never tell them upfront that this is what I am going to do, because that’s not the reason I want them to employ me. But at the end of the process, I will just tear up the bill and say this is my gift to you. What they can give me is not important in the long run, it’s a part of giving back to someone in need.

What is your greatest strength? Compassion - according to my wife.

What is your greatest weakness? Again - according to my wife - excessive compassion.

What is your greatest fear? That I don’t get everything accomplished that I want before time runs out. Sometimes, like in the “Go For It” board meetings, I keep pressing and pressing to get things on a fast track. I want to see the accomplishment of what I think the dream of that organization is and can be.

There is a big gap in this country between the wealthy and those living in poverty; what do you think can be done for those who don’t see much hope for their future? That’s a sad thing; and I agree with what the Bible says that the poor will always be among you. It is a problem that might never be solved, and unfortunately, there are some who need to take responsibility for their own plight. In philanthropy, discernment is really important in distinguishing between those who want a hand out and those who want a hand up.

I’m, for the most part a Republican, but I still don’t understand why we can commit the resources we do to foreign wars and to pork-barrel type projects, when we still have in this country children who go to bed hungry, and lack of opportunities for people who do want to have a better life.

What’s the best book you have ever read, and why? Two books: To Kill a Mockingbird. Because it’s about a lawyer and about a person who had compassion and was not filled with the prejudice of the community and realized the importance of a person standing up for someone who can’t stand up for themselves. The other one is: The Bible. It gives me hope that there really is a future and is a guidebook to me on how a person should live their life.

What are your favorite sports or leisure time activities? I’ve never been able to do much with sports because of some injuries, but I like to spend leisure time with my family. I like watching the Broncos, and my daughter Kimberly and I will go to the games in person because she is a fanatic Bronco fan.

What word best describes your life right now? Fulfilled.

Who is your hero/mentor? Number 1, my Dad would definitely have to be one of my heroes. I looked up to him and admired what he did with a minimal education, and how important he thought it was to be an active participant in the community process and take responsibility for what was happening. He knew senators and congressmen on a first name basis and was very active raising a family and taking care of an agricultural operation.

A hero to me is a person who substantially impacts your life in a way that is forever lasting; someone whom you would want to emulate in your own life. Aside from my father who taught me the importance of the family and protecting and supporting the family; Number 2 would be a Pastor named Luther Mann. When I was 38 years of age, and I was looking for answers to life, he became a spiritual mentor to me and took as much time as needed to impress upon me spiritual truth.

Thirdly, it would be my teacher and trainer, a deceased lawyer by the name of William P. Cantwell, who was a partner at Holland & Hart. When I was a young lawyer right out of law school, he gave me a job when I was first turned down by the hiring partner there, but because I was so eager to work and to prove myself, he was impressed by my eagerness and not my credentials, and gave me the job. Bill Cantwell gave me the work ethic I have today.

Who is the most interesting person you have ever met? Dr. Paul Kotin. I met him because I was doing estate planning for the Manville Corporation when they moved to Denver from back East. Dr. Kotin is an internationally known pathologist, and Manville hired him during the Asbestos Litigation Trials. Because of his national recognition, his experience and medical opinions carried a lot of weight. He wrote many books and hundreds of articles; and we talked a lot about politics and what took place in the corporate world. I learned a lot about what is good for business is not necessarily good for health. I listened for hours about his experiences. He was an intellect and a great philosopher. He’s still around today and lives in Santa Fe, and we still talk.

If you wrote an autobiography right now, what would the title of it be? The Life and Times of Bill Schmidt – A Work in Process.

What do you still want to learn how to do in your lifetime? How to operate a TV remote control. And, how to do the next interesting magic trick I see advertised.

What’s up in the future for Bill Schmidt? I don’t know of anything that I would want to do that would be more enjoyable than what I am doing now. I would eventually like to give more time to “Go For It” and the Young Philanthropists Foundation and some of the other organizations I’m doing things with, so I don’t feel quite as tied to my business.

Also, I’d like to spend more time with my wife. It’s great too that our kids don’t mind being around us, and we want to enjoy doing more things together with them.

How do you want to be remembered by future generations? The only future generation that I’m worried about what they might think about me is my own family. Beyond that, I try to conduct my life the best way I know how to, without worrying about what people are going to think about me.

I really believe that we best impact future generations by how we influence the lives of people who are younger than ourselves, and that’s why I’ve been interested and involved in these youth activities. What I would hope is that my children, and I believe I’ve seen the benefit of that – and my grandchildren, will be able to look back at me, and I hope that I have given lessons to them as valuable as the ones I’ve gained from my father.

So - what do you want your epitaph to be? “He loved God, and he loved his family.” Also it could be: “Political correctness and relativism are destructive; there really are moral absolutes.”