Highland News Leader

Know Your Neighbor: Richard and Susan Schmidt of St. Jacob

Highland News Leader

The Highland News Leader serves readers in Highland.
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The Highland News Leader serves readers in Highland.

When contemplating barbecue, most think of hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs and pulled pork. Not Richard and Susan Schmidt of St. Jacob. They have taken their culinary skills to new levels leaving their guests salivating for more.

Though neither in younger years ever entertained the notion of becoming chef and barbecue gurus, they are now grillers extraordinaire — as well as judges — across the country for annual competitions.

Richard was the middle child to an older and younger sister born in Highland to Roland and Anna Schmidt Sept. 23, 1939. His father, who became the fourth owner of Home Telephone Co., HTC. in 1927, often took his son to work with him to string wire and climb poles when not in school.

In fact, Richard was only 14 years old when he went to an equipment maintenance training seminar in Rochester, New York; he was the youngest to ever attend. After having graduated St. Jacob High School in 1957, Richard earned his four-year electrical degree from Washington University in 1961.

Susan was the eldest of one brother and sister in the family of Ralph and Mary Virginia Kraft. Born in 1943 in East St. Louis, she and her family resided in Highland. Susan had an avid interest in music and proficiently played the clarinet and flute.

When only a seventh-grader, Susan was tutoring music students from Assumption and St. Theresa’s Academy. In the eighth grade, she was invited to perform and tour with the Collinsville Band in New York, Philadelphia and Boston.

Richard and Susan met and courted throughout her high-school years. When their romance was just blossoming, Susan’s school was having a dance and Susan asked her friend, “I wonder why he, (Richard) doesn’t invite me.”

The response was Richard was not a student there, thus, Susan had to ask Richard to accompany her. Though she did not particularly like the idea, she invited him anyway and he accepted.

Richard said, “Susan was very lady-like and we both enjoyed the same things.”

When she graduated from Triad High School in 1961, the two tied the knot two weeks later on June 17, 1961.

Both with a passion for travel, their honeymoon included Las Vegas and a lounge featuring The Ink Spots. As they sat there soaking in the performance and sipping Coca-Colas, they were asked to leave the premises. Susan was only 17 years old.

The first seven years of marriage found Susan perpetuating her musical prowess and Richard following in his father’s footsteps. When Susan was expecting their first child, Eric, she became a stay-at-home mom. Eric was joined by two brothers, Jason and Justin, about three years later, with the couple’s only daughter, Rachel, making her appearance three years after the two middle boys were born 21 months apart.

Richard continued working with his dad and eventually became a partner. When his father passed away in 1973, Richard bought the remainder of the businesses from the estate. Richard was quite jocund with being able to relate HTC was the first town south of Springfield to have high-speed internet in 1993, even before St. Louis They also owned Schmidt Appliance Co., which carried Westinghouse and Magic Chef appliances.

During the time Richard ran the appliance store, microwave ovens became the newest, must-have appliance. Even though everyone wanted one, no one really knew how to best put them to use. So Susan researched and gathered up all the information, tips and recipes she could find and started a microwave cooking school. In 1993, they retired from the appliance business but continued to maintain and service the kitchen accessories they had sold.

A shift to grilling, judging

By 2000, Richard had involved their children in the Hometel business and the couple began traveling again. One expedition took them to Evansville, Indiana. As they were browsing around, both smelled something that titillated their olfactory glands — barbecue.

They found the pit master and he shared some of his experiences with the couple and soon Susan was bitten by the barbecue bug. Before they knew it, they were attending Memphis in May and Susan wanted to become a judge.

Richard was fully supportive of Susan, but felt judging a barbecue competition out of his realm. Susan continued to talk about the judging prospect and Richard finally acquiesced. Richard conceded to attending a training school in Columbus, Georgia, but was adamant, “I never want to be a judge.” But Susan’s enthusiasm was contagious and “it tasted so good, I decided I did want to be a judge,” exclaimed Richard.

Since 2000, they have judged approximately 248 contests through the Kansas City Barbecue Society and Memphis Barbecue Network, formerly Memphis in May. They have traveled to Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Tennessee, Galax, Virginia and Canada to judge the delectable creations as blind and on-site judges. The blind judge is as it implies and the on-site judge enables tasters to meet and visit with the chef.

Barbecuing defined

According to Author Robert Moss, who is the editor of Southern Living BBQ Magazine, barbecuing is an ancient tradition of smoking meat over charcoal that grew into a distinct form here in America. He said, “while barbecue may not be an American invention, it developed its own subset of characteristics here in the United States. The Native Americans were using a grid of sticks for drying and smoking meats rather than actually cooking or roasting it. They would hold the meat high above the fire to let it smoke and preserve it. The colonists took this concept and combined it with their western European technique for roasting different proteins like fish.”

Despite its deep association with the South, the practice initially took hold along the Atlantic coast of North America. Around the turn of the 18th century, Spanish and British colonists were cooking meat barbecue-style along the coast. It has now evolved to become one of the primary forms of social entertainment.”

Do the Schmidts divulge any of their recipes or secrets? Absolutely, everything except for their baked bean recipe. But as far as barbecue is concerned, “less smoke is better than more smoke,” said Richard. Other tips include not slathering meat in sauces, keeping the temperature regulated and focus on appearance, taste and tenderness.

Schmidts show their generous side

Susan broadened her culinary arts by attending a Cajun Cooking Class in New Orleans for five days and learned to perfect Gumbo, Jambalaya, pralines and bread pudding. The Schmidt’s home seems to be designed for entertaining.

A humongous gazebo adorns their tree-covered backyard, complete with dining accommodations for a crowd and special, tasty dishes to please the most discerning pallets. Richard and Susan are quick to explain they do this as a hobby and an opportunity to share their skills with family, friends, churches and charitable organizations.

Though no longer conducting their own barbecue competition, for 10 years they held a contest in St. Jacob which raised more than $40,000 that went back into the community. For 14 years, they have been teaching individuals of the St. Louis BBQ Assoc. how to become judges.

Richard was a volunteer firefighter for 40 years and the couple have donated countless meals. Every Christmas, Richard dons a Santa Claus suit and he and Susan adopt a child from East St. Louis Kinder Kottage to bestow with gifts and a visit from Santa.

It is evident the preparation and sharing of food is the Schmidt’s love language.