For the past 40 or so years, Penny Schmiedlin has devoted her time to helping others. From helping the blind to read to starting ministry programs, and now, with Reach Out Lodi, she’s always found ways to serve.
So her selection as Lodi’s Citizen of the Year may come as no surprise.
For many years, Reach Out Lodi has provided the community with food, clothing, personal essentials and school supplies, but initially, the efforts were scattered around various locations in the community.
“We realized how difficult this was for people,” Schmiedlin said. “You could call my house and would set up appointment.”
Clothing would be located in one location; food in another.
“We realized how hard that was for people who needed a ride,” she added.
An old medical building on Clark Street was available for purchase, and with donations from the community, the group established it as a one-stop location in 2015 with the help many volunteers.
Volunteers have been key to this effort. They began overseeing the store part of the building that provides clothing and other essentials, allowing Schmiedlin to start operating the community center.
“Lodi has never had a community center, and they wanted one,” she said. She and her husband Jim decided they would allow the community to inform them about what shape it would take.
“It’s pretty much for seniors, but not exclusively,” she said. “We rent out for other groups – the Optimist, Lions, Rotary, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H.”
It also offers lunch and entertainment.
“We have a wonderful chef who has worked at several dinner places around Lodi,” Schmiedlin said.
Schmiedlin arranges for entertainment, mostly music, but often historical reenactments from an actress who portrays figures such as Mary Todd Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt and others.
WOW – Wellness on Wednesdays – is a monthly program with speakers arranged by Sauk Prairie Hospital and Clinic.
Game Night is two Saturday nights per month geared to high school students and young adults with special needs. Together, they have a meal and play board games.
“It’s a chance for people to socialize who don’t really get that, especially once they’re out of school,” Schmiedlin said.
Classes such as Tai Chi are offered. And a Super Supper takes place two Tuesday nights a month with an open house for a meal. This year, the community center had planned to operate the lunches and Super Suppers throughout the summer, as well.
“People have come to a point of really needing that socialization. There’s a need in the community for groups,” Schmiedlin said.
Just as the COVID-19 virus limited congregations to groups of 10 or fewer, Schmiedlin was planning to offer Friday matinee movies.
“When we decided to close down, we thought we would close at the end of March. The numbers change every day,” she said.
Schmiedlin has a long history of helping others. In the late 1970s, she translated texts into braille.
“Madison schools would call you in, and you’d go in that day, and they’d be ripping pages frantically out of a textbook, and everyone who showed up would get a couple of pages to put in braille,” she said.
The work was time consuming. Using a machine, she created the dots that allowed blind people to read in a tactile manner.
Later, she started the Stephen Ministry out of her church. People in the program were counseled about how to visit others one-on-one in crisis.
“The people I taught and led would be assigned one person they would be meeting for months,” Schmiedlin said.
Then she started the Comfort Quilts program, involving five churches.
“If someone is in need of comfort, medical treatment or has lost someone, we would make quilts for that person,” she said. They are meant to remind the person that others care and pray for them.
Schmiedlin also serves on the board of Blessings in a Backpack, which provides food for school-aged children without adequate food at home on weekends. The organization operates out of Reach Out Lodi, delivering food to the schools for these children.
Schmieldin also operated a shop in Lodi, A Touch of Country, with country gifts and Amish furniture. She said working with Reach Out Lodi, she has reconnected with many customers.
Closing Reach Out Lodi has been difficult, she said.
“So many people depend on us and our services. It has just been really hard to close,” Schmiedlin said.
The Citizen of the Year award has honored Lodi residents since 1987. The awards selection committee is formed from past honorees who take nomination and make the annual selection. Nominees are upstanding citizens who have made a positive impact on the Lodi Community over a span of time through their volunteer efforts.
Each year, the Lodi & Lake Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce hosts a dinner to honor the Citizen of Year, but with restaurants unable to seat customers due the COVID-19 outbreak, the date is uncertain this year. Visit the Chamber’s website at lodilakewisconsin.org or call the office at (608) 592-4412