On May 31 at its Annual Celebration, SEVCA honored former Weatherization Director, Harald Schmidtke, a much-loved community leader, colleague, and friend, who passed away on April 2.
As SEVCA's Weatherization Director, Harald dedicated the past 25 years of his life to reducing energy costs and improving the lives of vulnerable Windham and Windsor County residents. SEVCA staff, Board, supporters, and friends gathered at the American Legion Post 67 in Chester, VT to celebrate and reflect on the enormous and lasting contribution Harald has made to the community through his leadership of the Weatherization Program.
SEVCA staff, other members of the statewide Weatherization network, and other colleagues spoke about their relationship with Harald and his impact on their lives. Attending the event were Harald’s children, Carol, Max, and Nicole, who expressed their heartfelt thanks for honoring their father and being part of Harald’s extended family during his lifetime.
SEVCA’s Executive Director Steve Geller, who worked closely with Harald for the past 14 years, said, “What stands out the most about Harald’s legacy is the fact that he was fiercely committed to not just his program and his staff, but to all of SEVCA and our mission, and to the success of the entire Community Action movement and the War on Poverty. This was a deeply heartfelt cause for him, not just a job.”
Gloria Dawson, former SEVCA Executive Director who hired Harald in 1993, shared how much she respected and relied on Harald, saying he was “…strong-willed, but loyal, and he had a heart of gold. He had a lot of compassion, he never wanted to see people struggling. His staff loved Harald, they respected him. He was tough on them, but they knew he would go to bat for them,” she said.
Geoff Wilcox, Weatherization Program Administrator at the Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), served as keynote speaker and shared his experiences of working closely with Harald over the past two decades. “He created a team atmosphere that was conducive to succeeding. Harald showed the same respect for a new crew hire as he did for his Operations Manager. To him, people were people no matter their title or circumstance in life, and you treated them respectfully and kindly.”
Geoff also reflected on how Harald’s life epitomized what makes the Weatherization program special. “Beyond how we save low income families money on their heating and electric bills, beyond how we make their homes warmer, and beyond how we many times change their lives and instill hope into them, a huge benefit of the Weatherization program is how it has improved the lives of the folks (like Harald and thousands of others like him) who get to work in it. Harald and I have this in common along with so many others. We found our calling, we realized how rewarding it is to help others, and to work with others who have that same drive and desire to help people in need….We found our purpose in life. We became Weatherization ‘lifers’.”
Former Weatherization client Janice Hastings also shared her appreciation for Harald and how much he cared about everyone he helped. Janice said that when she thanked Harald and the Weatherization Department for all the work they’d done to make her home warm and safe, “Harald turned around and said, ‘Thank you for giving us the opportunity to help improve your life.’”
Weatherization staff received a “Beyond the Call of Duty” award from Executive Director Steve Geller, who praised the department for coming together during the difficult circumstances of Harald’s illness and loss and developing and executing a plan to get the program back on track. He said that the commitment and team spirit that they displayed was an inspiration for all of us.