Alwin E. Schmidt, Jr., 68, of South Shore Drive, Sturbridge, passed away Wednesday, February 26, 2020 at Northampton, MA. He was a longtime resident of Northampton until 2011. Alwin was born at Putnam, CT July 6, 1951, the oldest child of Alwin Emil Schmidt and the late Darthia Pursel Bernheim. Raised in Eastford, CT and later in Sturbridge, MA where his parents settled in 1961, Alwin graduated in 1969 from Tantasqua Regional High School; in 1973 he earned a BA in history and in 1985 a MA in Public Administration, both at UMass Amherst.
Alwin was deeply committed to the values and ideals of social justice and economic and racial equality, to women’s reproductive and civil rights, and to lifelong learning and education. These values were partly shaped by the era of the 1960s, marked by cultural unrest and political protest as well as educational reform and innovation. During Alwin’s undergraduate years, he enrolled in UMass’s experimental residential college, "Project Ten," which encouraged student-led learning and courses that addressed political and social debates of the time. In the early 1970s he participated in numerous student organizations, including advocating against the Vietnam War, joining the Committee on Poverty of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Social Action Council, and organizing for better working conditions for graduate student employees and campus food and hospitality workers.
In 1980 Alwin joined the staff of the Family Planning Council of Western Massachusetts in Northampton where he worked for almost two decades as Director of Public Affairs. While there he served as cochair of the Massachusetts Family Planning Association from 1992-97, and in 1996 he received a commendation for his advocacy for family services from the Massachusetts House of Representatives. That year he also received the advocacy and public service award from the National Family Planning and Reproductive Association and was inducted into its board of directors.
In 1983 Alwin was one of the four cofounders of the National Priorities Project, an independent research organization advocating for peaceful and socially progressive federal funding priorities, based in Northampton. In 1988 he cowrote the Project’s first local activist’s guide to the federal budget, and he served on its board for over a decade. Later in his career Alwin worked as a human services consultant, including projects for MASSCAP, the statewide association of community action agencies.
Alwin left Northampton and returned to live at the longtime family home on South Pond in Sturbridge in 2011, coinciding with a cancer diagnosis. Alwin never stopped working during his long illness. A prodigious reader since childhood, especially of history, he devoted his later years to researching and writing on a daily basis, visiting libraries and archives. Focusing on his longheld interest in scholarly genealogy, he was completing a multivolume study on the New England ancestry of his maternal grandmother when he died. In 2019 a related 3-part article by Alwin was published in the New England Historic Genealogical Society’s quarterly "Register."
Alwin was caring, compassionate and kind, with a keen sense of humor. He loved baseball, music, swimming and his great cats. Genuinely interested in other peoples’ lives, he made many friends and maintained lasting friendships from his high school and college years. He traveled widely in the United States–often combining work or sightseeing trips with visits to friends–but especially liked exploring the landscapes and often forgotten histories of New England’s small towns and villages. Alwin was always close and affectionate with his family, and he will be very deeply missed.
Alwin leaves his father, Alwin E. Schmidt of Sturbridge; his brother Matthew P. Schmidt and sister-in-law Eva Rueschmann of Hadley; and his sister Ellen W. Shaughnessy and brother-in-law John Shaughnessy of Sturbridge.
A private family service will be held in the coming days at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Southbridge, MA. His family and friends plan to hold another remembrance in the Northampton-Amherst area later in the spring, to be announced later.
In lieu of flowers, Alwin’s family would like contributions in his name to be made to a public library or charity of the donor’s choice.
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