PENINSULA PROFILE: Couple devoted to themselves and the North Olympic Peninsula

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

Lovers of the beach, the ocean and the wild Olympic Coast are invited to join the Washington Coast Cleanup Day this Saturday, April 19.

To see the dozens of beaches needing people to help clear away litter and other debris, visit

The site provides history of the event and links to sign up for the cleanup; potential volunteers may also contact CoastSavers coordinator Jon Schmidt at or 360-460-7532.

Peninsula Daily News

Volunteer leaders are needed to offer 4-H clubs and activities for young people on the North Olympic Peninsula.

To find out more, see or visit the 4-H office in the Washington State University Extension office at the Clallam County Courthouse, 223 E. Fourth St., Suite 15, Port Angeles.

To reach coordinator Jenny Schmidt, phone 360-417-2398 or email

In Jefferson County, the WSU Extension office is in the Cupola House at Point Hudson, 380 Jefferson St., Port Townsend.

To find out more, visit the website at

The coordinator is Sue Hay, and she can be reached by phoning 360-379-5610, ext. 208, or by emailing

Peninsula Daily News
Jenny Schmidt checks with her mate before she tells the story.

Then, green light given, she describes to a reporter the year she and her boyfriend Jon left home. Barely out of their teens, they came to a place called Lake Crescent.

Jenny and Jon are from Minnesota — she grew up in Rochester, he in New Ulm — so the Olympic Mountains and the wild Olympic Coast held some powerful allure. Both managed to get jobs here, waitressing at Lake Crescent Lodge for Jenny and housekeeping there for Jon.

So the couple took a year off of college, to work and travel. The year was flanked by the two Crescent summers, of 1997 and ’98.

And before they returned to Minnesota, Jon proposed to Jenny on Second Beach, the sandy jewel near LaPush.

“We were very young,” Jenny says. And it felt right, then and now.

Jenny, 35, and Jon, 36, are marking their 15th wedding anniversary this year.

By 2002, Mr. and Mrs. Schmidt finished college in Minnesota and came back here — almost.

They moved to Ilwaco, a tiny Pacific County town, where Jon found work as an interpreter at Cape Disappointment State Park and Jenny, whose background is in elementary education, found a variety of teaching jobs.

In Ilwaco, they started their family, first welcoming Norah, now 9, and then Arlo, 5.

“I had a secure state job” — relatively — “so Jenny could take time off to be with the kids,” Jon recalls.

But by 2013, “she was ready for a career, and I was ready for a change,” he said.

The Schmidts began looking for work on the North Olympic Peninsula, hoping to open their next chapter in this place they had discovered 16 years back.

Their hopes materialized. Jon landed what was then a half-time job as coordinator of Washington CoastSavers, the group organizing annual cleanups from Neah Bay all the way down to the sands of Long Beach.

The spring cleanup is set for this Saturday,
April 19, and with the addition of Clallam County beaches along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the number of sites needing volunteers has grown to 53.

CoastSavers fit not only Jon’s interest in environmentally focused work but also his desire to have more time with his children.

Jenny likewise found a job that suits her values. She is coordinator of Clallam County’s 4-H program, with its 15 clubs for young people in kindergarten up through high school.

She works with volunteer 4-H leaders, and after nearly a year on the job, Jenny talks the talk and walks the walk — with obvious delight.

“While kids are doing their projects, they’re learning teamwork, cooperation, self-esteem and how to be good citizens,” she says.

“I’ve seen that it really works,” whether the 4-H’ers are in elementary school or high school.

“We’re in 4-H as a family,” Jenny adds.

For their project, Arlo and Norah are bringing up two sleek black cats, Arrow and Raven.

Jenny says 4-H can — and should — be available to more youngsters in all parts of Clallam County.

To start a new club, there must be an adult who can volunteer his or her time; existing leaders are eager to mentor the new ones. And for kids in seventh through 12th grade, 4-H has a teen leadership club and chances to attend regional and statewide conferences.

“The biggest misconception,” Jenny says, is that “you have to have an animal. There are a lot of other projects, such as arts and crafts, robotics, Adventures in Family Living,” which used to be called home economics.

This spring the 4-H program, part of Washington State University’s Clallam County Extension office, is embarking on a new project called Food Smart Families.

Using grant money, it will turn teenagers into teachers, giving classes on what makes good food at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula. The teens will teach 8- to 12-year-olds, Jenny adds.

While she develops her program, Jon has found himself working full time with CoastSavers.

The office is at the Schmidts’ house in Sequim, though, so he could be called a stay-at-home dad.

“I’m off at work,” Jenny says, “and he’s cooking dinner.”

Jon’s position is mostly grant-funded, with support from the Puget Sound Partnership, the Grays Harbor and North Pacific County Marine Resource committees, and NOAA’s Marine Debris Program — a major change from his years working for the Washington State Parks system.

“I still find grant writing empowering,” he says, since he’s not subject to state budget tides and, as he puts it, “waiting for the ax to fall.”

This Saturday’s cleanup offers North Olympic Peninsula residents a new set of places to explore close to home, Jon adds. This year’s grant funding allowed the addition of Clallam County park beaches, from Pillar Point and Freshwater Bay out west to Port Williams near Sequim — seven sites in all.

Another coastal cleanup is slated for September, so “there’s another opportunity,” Jon says.

But then, “I meet a lot of people who clean their beach every day. They’re habitual. . . . It does feel good to not only get outside but also to do something positive to actually improve the ecosystem.”

When asked about debris from the Japanese tsunami of 2011, Jon says it’s difficult to tell which stuff is from Japan and which is local.

“The tsunami contributed to what’s out there,” he says.

“But it doesn’t matter where the debris came from. It’s all potentially harmful to marine life.”

During last April’s cleanup, Jon says, an estimated 1,100 people volunteered on Washington’s beaches and removed some 15 tons of trash by hand.

This year, he and Jenny hope new teams, youth groups included, will join the effort.

The future of Coast­Savers, naturally, relies on engaging young people, on “getting kids out there, doing active things,” as Jenny says.

That makes Coast­Savers and 4-H kind of complementary, both Schmidts believe.

“Youth development” are the official words given as 4-H’s mission. Jenny puts it another way, in her signature enthusiasm. The program is about building community, and about teaching kids how, together, “they can help their world.”


Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5062, or at

Last modified: April 12. 2014 6:07PM
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