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TRIBUTE: The Impact & Legacy of ALLAN C. SCHMID and AL HELLUS



Prior to our last deadline in late November, our community lost two important and irreplaceable individuals, activists, and icons with the passing of Saginaw attorney Allan C. Schmid and poet Al Hellus.

Although each of these men hailed from different backgrounds and fashioned their contributions to our community with differing tools and vocations, each shared core characteristics reflective of that increasingly rare quality known as 'leadership' – commitment, persistence, vision, and the ability to exercise ideas into a call of action.

Over the years both Allan Schmid and Al Hellus became frequent contributors to The Review, and through that partnership grew a unique friendship and respect within me for the hopes, dreams, and goals they were each striving to accomplish.

Al Hellus submitted many of his earliest poems to this publication that preceded his own publishing career; and Allan Schmid often contacted me about publishing guest editorials with content that the competition managed to selectively 'edit'.

Indeed, through the course of reporting upon the many travesties of local government, Allan and his son Greg convinced me to extend my involvement beyond the realm of reporting politics by becoming actively involved with it as a candidate, and later member, of The Saginaw Charter Commission – a bittersweet eye-opener that forged a true understanding for me about the intricate manner in which governments are constructed; and the simple ways change can become thwarted through misinformation, deceit, and the opposition of a well-oiled political machine.

As we face new and uncertain times, it saddens me to realize that 'the two-Als' (as I have come to affectionately refer to them) will no longer be around to bring fresh insight, outrage, and irony to these pages.  But they do leave an enduring legacy – one that will not be quickly forgotten, and one that I would like to share with you in the paragraphs ahead.

 

 

Allan C. Schmid • Mover, Maverick & Shaker

 

Born and raised in Petersburg, Michigan on the eve of the last Great Depression almost 80 years ago, Allan graduated from Michigan State University in 1951 and graduated with Juris Doctor from Notre Dame Law School in 1955. He settled his family in Saginaw and served as Friend of the Court from 1956 through 1962 and then engaged in private law practice for the next 46 years.

He was in law partnership with various noted local attorneys, including James Brisbois Sr., Gerald Dent, and Craig Dill. For many years he practiced in partnership with his daughter Kathy and son Greg.

Undoubtedly, Allan Schmid possessed a masterful ability to transform the impotence of public frustration and outrage at governmental growth, waste, and transgression into populist activism. He is credited as a principal architect of modern legislative Term Limits in America, having proposed a term limits proposal 'A Sunset Law for Legislators' as early as 1980.

He was a co-author of two major amendments to the Michigan Constitution; The 1992 Term Limits Amendment and the 1978 Headlee Tax Limitation Amendment.  But mainly, he worked tirelessly as a vigilant advocate for personal freedom as it pertains to individuals and the marketplace, and stove to keep the ever-growing tentacles and intrusions of 'big government' limited, confined, and focused upon its proper duties.

From my growing involvement with Allan while working on the Saginaw Charter Commission, I came to appreciate the innate way he was capable of fostering achievement and respect from those he cared about and those willing to sacrifice beyond their own narrow self-interests.

As his son Greg, so eloquently expressed in his father's eulogy, Allan was "Never trapped in the past, but never ignorant of its lessons. Never afraid of the future, but curious and ever engaged in our-maneuvering it's awesome distant thunder. Always learning; always aspiring to better things; to wealth, yes, not just riches. And if he sometimes used a hammer where a screwdriver might have been suited to the job, well what of it. Allan belonged to a generation of doers and givers who made all this wealth, prosperity, and relative security we enjoy today possible. He came from a generation of thinkers who knew to measure twice and cut once, but knew also to cut when the time came."

It's funny how you can think you know somebody; but learn so much more about him in death. For instance, I'd never realized that as a child Allan was a horse-trader, though in retrospect, it makes perfect sense.

I hadn't realized he was a partner with Pat Patrick at the legendary Daniel's Den, which featured seminal regional and international Rock Bands in the 1960s and '70s. He also owned the 'Guys & Dolls'

Billiards halls, a Sunn Amplifier Dealership, and a roller skating rink, in addition to his law practice.

Allan's activism came with a price.

As an architect of the Saginaw Property Tax Cap, he showed the way that government – similar to individuals – must exist within the confines of a diet and a budget. His views were unchanging when it came to the abuse of elected office through waste, cronyism and outright graft. While the silent majority often agreed with his arguments through the ballot box, it also cost him some establishment associations and even clients, which is something I can also identify with.

To again quote his son Greg, "He knew that his important role as Watchdog was a thankless one, and I discovered all too soon that as I walked into professional life that I inherited some friends, but also some lifelong detractors bent upon discrediting Allan's work and righting the applecart he helped upset. But like many good men, he lifted the debate to a higher level, and brought out the best in other good men, even opponents. He was an 'active listener', to be sure. He wouldn't lie to you, he wouldn't tell other peoples' lies, and he wouldn't let anyone do you wrong on his watch. But he wouldn't let you lie to yourself either."

 

In His Own Words

Perhaps the best way to both remember Allan Schmid and pay him homage is to sift through the wisdom of his own words, penned and submitted to these pages, which I have sifted through the archive to reprint below.

Ironic, isn't it – what he wrote and stated years ago, still holds true today.

 "The school bond issue calls for closing nine schools over the next five years, beginning with Longstreet and Salina Elementary, and would provide renovations and additions for the remaining schools. Since when do you spend $240 million to close schools? A $240 million bond issue at 4 percent interest will cost a minimum of $9,600,000 for the first year just for interest. The school board's fairy tale about a 7-mil tax rate is at best very misleading Seven mills on the district's taxable property will raise only $6,286,000. Where does the remaining $3,314,000 come? Oh, I forgot about the tooth fairy.

"Tax exempt bonds over 22 years in length currently pay 5.2 percent according to the Wall Street Journal on Aug. 13, 2003. This equals $13,200,000 a year in interest only on $240 million."

 

"Saginaw's Tax Cap is the peoples' last bastion against the out of control managers of Saginaw City government. The Tax Cap was placed on Saginaw City government by a vote of the people in 1979. Since then, voters have overwhelmingly rejected one after another-repeated attempts by City Hall to repeal it, at expensive elections paid for with scarce city dollars.

The former Mayor and the former City Manager have both given up and left government, but the 'interim' Manager, Bill Bailey, recently gave an interview to Review Magazine in which he attempts to blame the property tax cap for 'plenty of downsizing' that has strained the government to its limits.

Plenty of downsizing has happened in the City of Saginaw, and for many reasons, but the Tax Cap is not to blame. Saginaw is a smaller city, with less people and less business than it had in the past.

The City Manager says the city is living on much less money than it had in 1979. As it turns out, the City government gets more money to do less than in 1979. In 1979 property tax revenue was $3,830,032 and in 2002 it amounted to $7,516,191 (based on 8.53 mils for each $1000 of assessed value, as opposed to 7.5 mils back in 1979. The 2002 amount includes extra property tax now imposed for garbage collection."

In 1979 city income tax collected $6,750,000 and in 2002 it collected $15,524,454.

Now let's look at some spending patterns for the City of Saginaw during the tenure of Bill Bailey as a full-time city employee (during which time he found time to write 15 books). In 1979 the total city budget including all expenditures for the city was $39,456,335. In

2002 the total city budget was $115,313,080. Poor, poor City Hall."

 

Allan C. Schmid may have left us, but the example he set through his actions and impeccable gift for thoughtful analysis will endure. He possessed both tenacity and humor and never gave up the 'good fight'.

And to once again quote his son Greg, "He never suffered from that modern neurosis called fear of success."

 

Al Hellus •

The Nourishment of Nouns,

The Salvation of Syntax

 

Shakespeare wrote that 'lovers and madmen have seething brains which apprehend more than mere reason ever comprehends.'

When I think of those words I think of my friend Al Hellus. As with any poet worth his salt, Al possessed a broad knowledge that reached beyond the confines of literature & words into politics, philosophy, and history.

A lot of people don't realize that before he published his first poem and adopted the lifestyle of an activist bohemian, he worked for the State Republican Party as a policy analyst. Al didn't like to make this period of his life well-known, but he once admited to me that the experience helped form the nucleus for much of his outrage, sculpting his urge for higher forms of expression.

 

And expression quickly became Al's passion, not merely with the written word, but by forging new ways to convey the multiple-layers of meaning embedded within words with new forms of delivery - whether it be through music, as he did with The Plastic Haiku Band, or through staging Poetry Slams at the Red Eye Cafe.

As both a historian and a poet, Al was enamored with the substantive lyricism of legendary Saginaw poet Theodore Roethke, whom he organized the annual 'Rouse for Roethke' for,  and dutifully went about enlisting local personalities to read each of Roethke's poems in a 12-hour fundraising marathon.

Perhaps it isn't surprising that one of the first poems Al submitted to The Review for publication was back in 1990 and entitled at roethke's grave:

 

lightning jags from the mud.
breath gasps where water meets shore
and words form, a form
sways over this meeting place
and chants an incantation,
dips a finger in the mud
and puts it to a shapeless mouth
a shadowless form that was always
something like this..

 

the impossibility of death
the image of reincarnation

 

all water is the sea; we
are the sea - a vast incantation
of breeding flesh, memory, of
nucleotides and nutrinos;
push and pull
through this granite window
i see the core itself pulsing

 

in our bi-pedal dreams we believe
we know so much more than we do
because we stand upright, can
bend our faces to the stars.

 

the mud is our mother & father
mud is our children

 

these ashes tell me so
and my own mud echos
yes.

     

It's ironic how the opposing forces in life - the anima and animus; the yin and yang - eventually are folded into a seamless circle by the warp of time.

Al had a gift for capturing those moments like a leopadopterous casting his net for uniquely colored butterflies.

In his 50-years of living Al published a chapbook with fellow-poet Marc Beaudin entitled Saginaw Poems and went on to publish a vision of corrected history with breakfast (1995), Alternative Baseball and Other Poems (1997(, and How Much of Your Heart Is Left (2008)

- the last of which I was thankfully able to interview Al about a couple weeks prior to his passing.

In closing, I would like to share this space with sentiments expressed by two other astute fans of Al Hellus.

The first is from Kathy Light-Schultz: "Al is woven into the fabric of Saginaw's history. His persona and poetry will find their way into conversations long after we are all gone."

And finally, this poem, submitted to me by Jim Crissman:

 

A Few Lines for Al at the Party he Just Missed (Al Hellus, September 11, 1958 - November 14, 2008)

 

A lot of blood pumps / between poems, / so yeah, / I'll have another beer.

 Al Hellus, from "Tuesday", Alternative Baseball & other poems, 1997

 

In the existential march to oblivion,

the real jocks, the gifted and fearless among us, the ones who break ranks and run for the finish, leave us in the dirt in the dust-to-dust marathon, they are damn cheaters.

They're pumped up on all kinds of sh#t

You can follow their winding trail of empties and butts, baggies and pill bottles, needles and spoons, trace their flammable exhaust, their ribbons of smoke, hear their lungs on fire, see their livers choked.

They spend everything to get there first, decades ahead of us cautious plodders; they grab a forward spot on the end of the line that goes on forever.

 

And among these elites who race to the head, those few with the fitness and fortitude to sustain a lifelong sprint to the brink there are special forces who trail also words:

they make their long thin lines,

not of earth plowed in its season,

not barbed wire strung on a property line, not uncrossable yellow stripes on an endless road.

They don't leave suture lines underlining the day they handed our beating heart back to us.

And they don't leak endless columns of data lined up like the steady drip of blood draining into a basin.

They are none of these jarheads of daily order.

 

They are the staggering commandoes

charged with the dirty work,

the disorderly conduct of free verse;

they are the addled poets who excavate the wilderness one knee-slapping keystroke at a time, turn it over, spin it around, dig it, make a perfect damn mess of things that were a hell of a mess to begin with and then have the stones to further litter the place with blizzards of drafts and deletions.

They navigate backwards by a funhouse mirror smudged with lipstick and skin eruptions and they chronicle their stumbles, leave unreliable notes, and just disappear.

Leave everything. Leave early. Leave us.

Leave nothing but a Royal ribbon

of dark rants and tapped out love marks, tapped out carbon love marks that scholars will date to the moment the grass screamed and a right foot flopped into left field and the grasshopper waved goodbye and they will stroke their stubbled chins and consider once more the one they called Al, mulling him over long after the whisky breath has vanished and the stale smoke is scrubbed away.

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