Feb. 26, 2007

The legend lives on... in Delano

By Jen Bakken
Staff Writer

If you’ve ever caught a glimpse of someone in town with jet black hair, sideburns, and big silver glasses, then perhaps you have seen Delano’s Jim Schmidt.

Schmidt, otherwise known simply as Elvis, retired last year from Delano Middle School, where he was a special education teacher, and that is where his passion for Elvis began.

During his 20 years at the middle school, Schmidt and fellow teachers put on programs and would lip sync to songs, performing as Elvis and other artists, for the students.

“We wanted to have fun and let the students see us teachers in a different light,” Schmidt said.

In 2002, after seeing his Elvis act at school, a parent of one of his students hired him to perform a birthday party, Jim explained,

“That’s when I started professionally impersonating Elvis, or at least, occasionally, getting paid to do it,” Schmidt said. “It’s not an ego builder but it makes me happy to see the joy I can bring to others keeping their memories of Elvis alive. I don’t take it too seriously; I do it because I enjoy it.”

His “grace land” is a home in town he shares with his wife of 35 years, Sharon, who, he said, is supportive of his hobby and part time “gig.”

“My wife makes all the scarves I hand out at my shows,” he said with a smile. “This past summer we went to Cancun and, even there, I was asked to be in a photo. It’s hard to say no, but I need to realize it takes time away from her.”

Together, they have three grown children, seven grandchildren and Rosie, the hound dog – who he said is his dog, unless his wife has food.

Proudly, he talks about his grandchildren and how they are excited because, now that he is retired, he can attend their school events as “Grandpa Elvis.”

“I told one of my grandsons, who is in fifth grade, that if he keeps growing like he is, he’ll get my Elvis suits,” Schmidt said with a laugh.

A walk through their Delano home reveals a huge collection of Elvis items and memorabilia including, but definitely not limited to, a collection of stuffed dogs and teddy bears, some which belt out Elvis tunes.

There are movies, CDs, paintings, pictures, figurines, Elvis monopoly, and other games, plus much more. Many of these items are gifts from fellow teachers and past students, including a painting given to him, as a retirement gift by John Fitzer, who is a teacher at Delano Schools.

Schmidt’s car has a license plate in the back window which says, “EP TCB,” and, just like Elvis Presley, Jim is “takin’ care of business.”

If you spend more than a few minutes with Schmidt, you will get the Elvis hand wave, which he will tell you stands for “aloha” in Hawaii, where Elvis shot several films.

When you dial Schmidt’s phone number and get the answering machine you shouldn’t hang up – you need to hear Schmidt’s message, which is, “You know I can’t be found, sittin’ home all alone, if you can’t come around well at least please telephone, hey I’m all shook up over missing your call but don’t be cruel and at the sound of the beep leave a message, thank you, thank you very much.”

His phone message is unique, and that is also a word which can be used to describe him. He is unique.

Of course, one of Schmidt’s favorite subjects is Elvis, but he is quite the talker and enjoys many other subjects such as sports, family, and education. When talking about the Delano area and its school district he said, “Delano is a great community and the educational system is fantastic.”

“I have known Mr. Schmidt for about 20 years,” said Rick Haley, a Delano middle school teacher. “He is a very sensitive man who is always willing to help at school. He is a great sports enthusiast. Jim always kept track of how well each activity was doing. He has a great sense of humor and is always laughing.

“Nowadays, the kids think it is fun to have Elvis for a substitute teacher. I would describe Mr. Schmidt as passionate about his work and play.”

Along with being unique, passionate, and a man of many words, Schmidt has also kept himself very busy throughout his life.

In 1973, he began teaching in Wadena, first at a public school then a Catholic school. From there, he worked at Rochester State Hospital, where he taught handicapped adults for three years.

Then, before ending up in Delano, he worked at the St. Cloud State Prison for seven years, where he helped inmates get their diplomas and GEDs.

Coach is also a title he has held, having spent eight years as an eighth grade softball coach, followed by seven years coaching seventh grade baseball.

With that experience, it’s no surprise Schmidt has occasionally been seen on the ballfields as an umpire, and last summer, he played softball for Buffalo Covenant Church, where he and his wife attend services.

“I plan to play again this summer, even though my knees are shot,” he said.

As if all of those things aren’t enough, he has also been with the National Guard for 20 years, and will retire in March, when he turns 60 years old with his rank as major.

Delano Middle School teacher Barb Riddle had this to say when asked about Jim: “Jim Schmidt has a heart of gold. About the only thing he wouldn’t share is his white Elvis jumpsuit!

“He came out to our home to coach my daughter’s hitting in softball when she was having trouble. When my daughters were young teens, Jim drove them all the way out to Cokato and gave them a ride to their softball game in his new convertible.

“He timed it so that all of their friends would see them arrive. What a wonderful memory that was for them. Elvis has nothing on Jim’s generosity.”

When Riddle’s oldest daughter got married two years ago, Schmidt was the talk of their wedding, when he attended and then switched to his white Elvis jumpsuit to sing the new bride a love song.

On Schmidt’s final day of teaching last year, staff had a lot of tears and laughter. However, it was assistant principal Dave Lindeman who brought the most tears.

“A minute after Jim left, Dave got on the intercom and announced, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Elvis has left the building,’” Riddle recalled. “It felt very empty there for awhile.”

Jim gave of his talent constantly at Delano Middle School, Riddle added.

“I was lucky enough to perform with him at an end of the year teacher’s talent show for the students,” she said. “We sang a song from Grease, with me singing as Olivia Newton-John to Jim’s John Travolta.

“The kids had a ball with it, but I think Jim and I enjoyed it more. If it was for the kids, Jim was there in an instant. He is a big man with an even bigger heart, and I am blessed to know him.”

Presently, Schmidt works part time at the Tiger Activity Center and substitute teaches at DMS. The middle school daily bulletin lists the names of substitutes each day, and when Schmidt is in the school, it states that “Elvis is in the building.”

“I am an Elvis fan too, so it’s been fun talking about our idol,” said Kathy Hegna, a middle school special education teacher. “We have both been to Graceland. He has played Elvis for several school occasions, staff Christmas parties and even two teacher talent shows.”

Hegna said Schmidt’s passion for Elvis is very real, and she said she appreciates the costumes he buys and how keeps up on all of it for his job as impersonating him.

“He would wear the outfits occasionally while he taught,” she said. “His students really appreciated it and had fun with it. Jim loves kids and enjoyed teaching. It would always amaze me to come around a corner at school and see Elvis there.

“I always wondered what visitors thought when they would come to school and see him around, He had the hair and glasses and look of Elvis for sure. No matter whether he was teaching or impersonating Elvis he enjoys what he does. The guy loves life and it shows in everything he does.”

Is Elvis still alive?

In Delano, Elvis is alive and well. Presently, Schmidt owns three full Elvis jumpsuits, a white one called “The Eagle Outfit,” a blue one called “The Owl Outfit” and another called “The King of Spades.”

He also has red and black two-piece suits.

“The Old Indian Outfit” is a $1,600 embroidered jumpsuit he is having made, and, if wondering minds wanted to know – yes, he does have blue suede shoes – two pair, in fact.

“The funny thing is, Elvis sang about them but I’m not even sure he owned a pair,” Jim said with a laugh.

Schmidt performed at Lake Ridge Care Center in Buffalo Feb. 15, and when his shiny white shoes stepped off the elevator, you could hear hoots, hollers, and whistles from those eagerly awaiting his arrival.

He sang along to Elvis’ songs, personally serenading many, handing out the scarves his wife makes, (which are signed, Jim ‘Elvis’ Schmidt), and kissing cheeks.

In between songs he told the crowd Elvis trivia and he ended each song with, “Thank you, thank you very much.”

Schmidt competed in a contest during Elvis Extravaganza at the Mall of America three years ago, and said even though he didn’t win, he just isn’t sure he’ll enter again, admitting, “I just can’t shake it like those young Elvises.”

When recalling past shows, you can almost see a sparkle in his eyes, even through the big Elvis sunglasses – sure proof that this man truly enjoys his hobby.

“Love songs and gospel songs are my favorite,” Schmidt beamed.

One special memory he has is of performing at a relative’s wedding in Oregon, and a man liked his act so much he paid to fly Schmidt to San Jose and be Elvis at another wedding.

In August, it will be 30 years since the death of Elvis, and Schmidt plans to be there to take part in the vigil and events. He never personally saw Elvis, but said the closest he ever came was being in the same town when Schmidt was in the service. However, the show was sold out, and Schmidt was unable to get tickets.

“Unless he shows up in Graceland in August, I never will,” Schmidt added with a laugh.

“This will be my seventh year in a row going to Graceland. I enjoy going dressed up as Elvis, handing out scarves, quizzing other fans on Elvis trivia and helping to preserve his memory,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt has a framed Elvis quote hanging on the wall of his home office and said, “They are Elvis’ words to live by.”

Elvis said them when he accepted the Jaycees award for America’s Top Young Men of the Year, and Schmidt said he tries to end each show reciting them.

“I learned very early in life that without a song, the day would ever end,” Schmidt said.

“Without a song, a man ain’t got a friend;

“Without a song, the road would ever bend;

“Without a song . . . so I’ll keep singin’ a song.”

To hire Jim ‘Elvis’ Schmidt for a birthday, wedding, or other event, contact him at (763) 972-6905 or e-mail elvistcb@charter.net.

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