Thursday, May 09, 2002

In Julia's memory

Scholarship fund helps family heal

        Mike and Judy want to remember their Bunny, their Sweetie, their daughter, their Julia.

        But remembering hurts.

        Julia is gone.

        She died in an automobile accident in January. She was 16.

        Mike Schmidt and his wife, Judy Spraul-Schmidt, have come up with a way to ease their pain. And keep Julia's memory alive.

        They have established the Julia E. Schmidt Memorial Fund for Diversity Scholarship at St. Ursula Academy where Julia was a spirited honors student in the class of 2003.

        The fund gives scholarships to needy minority students. Its purpose speaks highly of Julia and the parents who raised her so well. By helping others, Mike and Judy find the courage to cope and make one of Julia's dreams come true.

        “We want to focus on Julia's life,” Judy said of the daughter she called Bunny. The nickname came from the book, The Runaway Bunny, whose line, “wherever you go, I will find you,” Judy recites with a heavy heart.

        “She was our Sweetie,” Mike said. “This scholarship is a positive. Beyond photos and memories, it's all we have left.”

        Julia's parents spoke with me over lunch last week.

        Mike poked at his soup. Judy picked at her salad.

        They glanced briefly at the panoramic view of the city from the cafeteria atop the Chiquita Center, home to Mike's law office. But for the most part they kept their minds on sharing a corner table as they shared their grief. And their daughter's dream.

        Julia felt St. Ursula needed more diversity. The school educates 660 students — 92 percent white, 8 percent minorities.

        “She first went to St. Ursula in the seventh grade and saw long ponytails galore,” Mike said.

        “She was shocked. "I like the school,' she said. "But it's not what I'm used to.'”

Public school experience

        Julia was used to being a distinct minority. When she was in the sixth grade of the Cincinnati Public Schools' French-language program, “she was one of four students,” Mike said. “And she was the only Caucasian.”

        She valued that diversity, Judy said. “She remembered all the fun she had in that grade.” She cherished how much she learned about the real world “by having friends from different socioeconomic and racial backgrounds.”

        She talked about the joys of a diverse classroom with her dad on the night of Jan. 9. It was just the two of them in the kitchen of their Westwood home.

        Judy was teaching a college history class. Julia's brother Steve was away at college.

        She told her father: “I just want you to know how much I appreciate that I had these experiences with my friends.”

        At the time, Mike told himself:

        “She's talking. This is fun. I wish she would do it more often.”

        Today, he calls that talk “our goodbye conversation.”

        Nine days later, Julia climbed into the back seat of a car driven by one of her best friends. Exams were over. Time to go for a drive.

        The jaunt turned into a high-speed round of hill hopping. The car crashed. Julia died of a broken neck.

        The goodbye conversation inspired Julia's parents to establish the scholarship fund.

        “If she can hear us, knowing the fund is there, I think she would be proud,” said Mike.

        “It shows we understood what she meant,” Judy said.

        “We got the message,” Mike added.

        Now, they're passing it on. For their Julia.

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; e-mail Donations to the Julia E. Schmidt Memorial Fund for Diversity Scholarship, c/o St. Ursula Academy, 1339 E. McMillan St., Cincinnati 45206.


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