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Former Saint Leo monk was brother to all

By ERIN SULLIVAN
Published April 14, 2007


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SAN ANTONIO - Luke Schmitt, the former monk who kept San Antonio mowed, cleaned, fed and, at times, bewildered, hated spending money so much that it might have killed him. The man known by most everybody in town - and how could you miss him, a burly, grizzled guy, mowing City Hall's lawn barechested and barefoot with ancient mowers - had been sick off and on for years: His legs swollen with fluid, his heart rate speeding, his steps slow.

But he wouldn't stop - Luke never took a sick day, ever - and he'd only go to the doctor if he absolutely had to, because he didn't want to pay for it. On the day he had a stroke in his Brooksville living room, his wife, Alice, had to call a deputy to come and force him into the ambulance.

That night in the hospital - before he had the second massive stroke that sealed his fate days later on April 4 - Luke, who was 62, was angry with Alice for making him come.

Alice, who had been married to Luke for 37 years, feels guilty she didn't force him earlier. But, she knows better than anyone that you couldn't force Luke to do anything. He was his own person and made no apologies for it. He hated dressing up, so he didn't. He liked his 1966 Chevy pickup truck and wasn't giving it up, even if he did replace the engine three times and couldn't drive it more than 40 mph. He wasn't going to learn how to use a computer. His pencil and ledger pad were fine.

When he made a decision, there was no swaying him. Fortunately for the people of San Antonio, his decisions were for good. The only person he ever hurt was himself.

Disciplined and frugal

Luke was born John George Schmitt in Hoboken, N.J., the only child of late-life, German parents. His father was 54, his mother 38. They were disciplined, religious and zealously frugal. When Luke was 12, he paid for the family's car from money he saved mowing lawns.

They moved to Florida and, after high school, Luke attended St. Leo University and then joined St. Leo Abbey and spent seven years as a Benedictine monk. That is when he took the name Brother Luke - and he kept it for the rest of his life. He ran the Abbey's ranch. It was during this time that he grew his beard though, contrary to popular belief, it wasn't for some mystical religious reason. It was to hide his double chin.

He met Alice, a local girl who got a job as a secretary at the Abbey. They were friends and married after he left the brotherhood. When asked about his time as a monk by curious people, the only thing Luke would say about his decision to leave was, "They wouldn't let Alice move in." He'd laugh and change the subject. Though he left the brotherhood, he never left religion. That was always sacred to him.

Luke and Alice ran a gas station and auto mechanic shop at the corner of State Road 54 and Curley for several years. Luke was a workaholic. They'd get there at 6:30 a.m. and still be there past 10 p.m., with Luke telling Alice that instead of nodding off, she should be wanting to clean up.

After they closed the station, Luke became the man most knew him to be: The salty pirate of a guy with a soft heart who mowed lawns, cleaned businesses and fixed cars for a living, but who became the go-to guy for all festivals and functions. He was the man behind the scenes for the Rattlesnake Festival, the Cattleman's Association food booth at the county fair and the PTA while his son, Carl, was in school. Luke - Mister Frugality - actually spent the money to purchase a Santa Claus suit, because of how often he played the part around town at Christmas. He dyed his beard white just for it every December.

When asked about Luke, all people say that he was the hardest worker they ever met. He'd sleep in his car at the fair, because he didn't want to waste the few hours going home. He scoured festivals in the state for new ideas they could use. Luke never wanted glory, he just got jobs done. When he'd get awards for his work, he was humble. But he hung the plaques in his office. He didn't show affection - he showed his love by doing, by working, by being there for people. But it did mean a lot to him that he was appreciated.

Sometimes, Alice would tell Luke that charity work was something rich people did - that they couldn't afford for him to spend all his time doing it. And he'd tell her that he didn't have much of anything to give to the world, but he did have himself, and he wanted to give that.

"Luke would give you the shirt off his back," said Father Henry Riffle, who has known Luke for 45 years, "if he had on a shirt."

Wrench for a cross

Luke's funeral was Thursday morning at St. Anthony's Catholic Church in San Antonio. Two hundred people filled the wood pews that Luke had cleaned and maintained for years, as well as the church grounds. Luke himself was in the front, in a black and gold urn Alice found for cheap at Bealls, because he would have haunted her if she bought one of the expensive ones (just like he vowed to haunt her if she buried him in a suit.) But she did splurge on nice flowers.

Instead of a cross, Father Riffle put a wrench down by Luke's urn because it seemed more fitting.

Gloria Bohannon, current president of the Rattlesnake Festival, talked about Luke. She said the first words that came to her mind were, "ornery, hard-headed and stubborn."

And the congregation clapped.

"But," she said, "once you got past that, you knew he had a heart of gold."

Life Stories is an occasional feature taken from Pasco obituaries. Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4609.

[Last modified April 13, 2007, 22:44:20]


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