Bonnie Jean Schmidt
BERNE — Clients and animals were like family for Bonnie Jean Schmidt. She took her work as a home health aid seriously, with strength and gentleness, like the elephant tattooed on her arm.
Bonnie Jean Schmidt died of cirrhosis of the liver on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013. She was 57.
Born on May 11, 1956, at St. Peter’s Hospital, into a family that loved and kept many animals on its Westerlo property, Mrs. Schmidt grew up riding horses since not long after she could walk. She graduated from Berne-Knox High School in 1974.
Mrs. Schmidt and her siblings worked in a hotel while she was still in high school. She was a chambermaid there, and later at a Greenville resort.
Mrs. Schmidt sought a career as a home health aid with a desire to care for people in need. She eventually met her husband, Dennis Schmidt, another home health aid originally from Manhattan, while they both cared for a quadriplegic man in Voorheesville. They had alternating shifts, but soon started a relationship.
“The family we were taking care of together, they were like another family to her,” said Mr. Schmidt. Mrs. Schmidt, who has a stepmother, called the client’s mother “Mom number 3.”
The first rule in training to become a home health aid, Mr. Schmidt said, is to not become attached to clients. “How do you not get attached to somebody?” he asked. It made Mrs. Schmidt work harder, helping decorate a family’s Christmas tree or cooking for it a Thanksgiving dinner before going home for her family’s meal. She prepared brushes and paints so the quadriplegic man could paint.
A Thoroughbred horse named Sonnet was Mrs. Schmidt’s ride through the trails of the Partridge Run Wildlife Management Area in Berne. She and Mr. Schmidt, whom she married on Sept. 23, 2000, had a home there.
“Sonnet can be a quarter mile away. She could call out ‘Sonnet’ and Sonnet would run out to her,” said Mr. Schmidt. She called their chocolate Labradors, Jacobe and Chenea, her kids.
“When she was riding, she’d go all day. It felt free,” Mr. Schmidt said of his wife.
The Schmidts hunted in the woods together, starting the day with coffee and doughnuts and talking for long hours.
“She wouldn’t shoot them,” said Mr. Schmidt of the wild animals. “She’d go with me. She was my other set of eyes and ears.”
Mrs. Schmidt was diagnosed with primary biliary cirrhosis of her liver 22 years ago. Doctors said she would have 15 years of normal life. She had 18.
The disease eventually prevented Mrs. Schmidt from going outside for long. She took a job in the bakery department of a grocery-store bakery because her body had weakened so she could no longer be a health aid, but she still visited former clients.
She developed other serious health problems and, two years ago, Mrs. Schmidt was placed on a liver transplant list at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, but no liver was available.
Mrs. Schmidt will be remembered for her gentleness and compassion, Mrs. Schmidt said. She was strong, he noted. She could maneuver clients and speak her mind when she had an opinion.
“I think that’s why she liked elephants so much,” Mr. Schmidt said. “Because, they’re so strong and powerful, but so gentle, and so was Bonnie.”
Bonnie Jean (née Lee) Schmidt is survived by her loving husband and caregiver, Dennis M. Schmidt; her daughter, Tracey L. Furman and her boyfriend, Donivan; her son, Benji R. Furman and his fiancée, Kelly May; her stepdaughter, Leslie M. Schmidt; her stepson, Brandon Miller; and her grandchildren, Ashley Homeyer, Jeffrey Homeyer, Robert Haas, and Garner Furman.
She is also survived by her stepmother, Shirley Lee, and her mother, Donna Slingerland Lee; her brother, Bruce Lee, and his wife, Fely; her sister, Denise Stoliker and her husband, Mike; and her brother, Brian Lee and his wife, Patty.
Mrs. Schmidt’s father, Bennie Lee, died before her.
She is also survived by several nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins, and many, many special friends.
Arrangements are by the Fredendall Funeral Home in Altamont.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, Oct. 26, at 12:30 p.m. at the Lee family cemetery on Route 85 in Westerlo. All are welcome to attend.
— Marcello Iaia