The Extraordinary Life of Dale Schmitzer

Schmitzer (left) with the late Alex Trebek (right). Schmitzer was in charge of Entertainment Programs while working at Ramstein Air Base in Germany and was able to host Trebek three times, along with numerous others.

By Emily Chin, Staff Writer

Not everyone can say that they’ve traveled the entire continent of Europe, but Niles West and East alum Dale Schmitzer can righteously claim the bragging right for the most intriguing traveler. Her life is full of excitement, love, and of course traveling, but where did it all start? The life of Ms. Dale Schmitzer began right here in Skokie, IL.

Attending Niles West from 1959-1961, then transferring to Niles East for her last years of high school, Schmitzer was a total troublemaker. At the time, West and East were only two-year schools, but in 1961, the district decided to change West into a four-year school sabotaging the rest of Schmitzer’s high school experience.

“We were all on pins and needles waiting to hear which school we would go to and how they would decide who went there. Much to my dismay, 80-90% of my friends stayed at West and I had to go to East. The boundary line was one street over from our street. So friends of mine who lived two blocks away from me went to West, and I went to East. I was devastated!” Schmitzer said.

Schmitzer begged her mom to use her grandparents’ Morton Grove address and even offered to go live with her grandparents. Instead, the idea was immediately shut down, one reason due to falsifying information, and the other being her mom’s role as Secretary of the Superintendent at Niles East. There was no way around that particular wrinkle.

Her experience at both West and East were pretty chaotic. In her two years at West, she made the cheerleading squad but got kicked off because of failing algebra. At East, she again made the cheerleading squad, but the unthinkable happened not once, but twice – she got kicked off the team, this time due to ditching school.

“I missed West and my friends so much that I ditched school one day just to go to West and spend the day there while everyone was in school. How dumb could I be? So many teachers knew me because of being a cheerleader (and a rebel) that they, including the principal, Dr. Manos, recognized me and turned me in!” Schmitzer said.

But missteps and adventures aside, West ultimately connected her with her budding interest in travel. A freshman year job fair was the moment she decided on her dream of becoming an airline stewardess for Pan American Airlines. The only thing standing in her way were gender norm standards, a large obstacle at the time.

“I remember since 8th grade, I decided I wanted to see the world and travel. Back in the 50s when I was growing up, you were expected to get married, raise a family, and be the perfect wife for your husband. Freshman and sophomore year we had to take Home Economics Classes to learn how to cook and sew. They taught us how to set a table properly and about proper etiquette. The boys took woodworks and auto mechanics!” Schmitzer said.

She finally graduated from Niles East in 1963 and began attending Southern Illinois University for the next four years of her life.

“My dream would have been to go to a Big 10 University, but I did not have the grades! I picked SIU because I saw a big sign in a bookstore that said: “Playboy Magazine announces Top Ten Party Schools in the USA.” I saw that SIU in Carbondale was #1…sadly, that is how I picked where I would go to college! I was always more interested in having fun that academics!” Schmitzer said.

During the summer of 1966, she lived in Hawaii and attended summer school at the University of Hawaii. After college, she worked as a program director at the Devonshire community center. It wasn’t her first job with the Skokie Park District, though, since she previously worked summers as a camp counselor.

“After two years, I had this feeling of…”Is that all there is?…So, I decided to quit my job, buy a 3 month Eurail pass and travel Europe,” she said.

Now the real adventure had begun. She packed up her bags and took $5,000 of savings to experience a real-life version of Arthur Frommer’s “Europe on $5.00 a day.” Using her Eurail pass, she went to every single country in Europe within three months. Once her pass was used up, she took the chance to buy a 1963 Volkswagen Bug and drove from Germany to France, Spain, Italy, Greece, the Grecian Islands, and Croatia, which was a part of Yugoslavia at the time. With the enthusiastic and wanderlust energy she had, she never passed up the countless opportunities in each country. She attended all the big events on her bucket list like Oktoberfest, the Santa Lucia Festival in Sweden, Running of the Bulls in Spain, the Grand Prix, St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, and Nuremberg Christkindl Markt.

Throughout the time she spent in Europe, she made several friends who encouraged her to apply for a job at the US Civilian Personnel Office in Munich. She applied and it turned out there were no openings in Germany, but there were in Vietnam. She took the position and went home to live with her parents, where she stayed until she received the go-signal to head out. But President Nixon putting a freeze on hiring which ended in July of 1971, delaying her departure for eight months.

She lived in Vietnam for a year and also visited Thailand, Singapore, Bali, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Australia. After leaving Vietnam in 1972, she took “a delay in route” and spent a month traveling Japan. Eventually, she came back to Skokie and started traveling within the United States.

After her time in the West Coast, she applied for a job in Germany with the government and landed the position as a youth director. She spent the rest of her career at Ramstein Air Base in Germany working for the Air Force and Army as a civilian for 35 years and retiring as the Director of Morale, Warfare, and Recreation. The 35 years spent in Germany resulted in more traveling. Schmitzer revisited every country in Europe and added Russia, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Israel, Ibiza, and Mallorca to her list.

After her retirement, she toured all over India for two weeks, fulfilling her bucket list dream of seeing the Taj Mahal. She then returned back to the US, again leaving for Peru to see Machu Picchu and the Amazon jungle for two weeks.

“The 35 years in Europe were just wonderful as we traveled almost every weekend. From where we lived, we could drive to Paris, Amsterdam, Zurich, the Alps all within 5 hours! When I lived in Skokie, we got in our car and drove 5 hours we were only in Southern Illinois! In Germany, we could be in a totally different country with different cuisine, language, architecture, customs, and history. We could fly to London in 3 hours, where we often went to see live theater. We skied famous ski resorts in four different countries. I feel truly blessed to have lived the life I lived and to have had all the travel experience that I did…and I never had to be a stewardess to do it!” said Schmitzer.