By Keith Hautala. Photos by Peter Knox and courtesy of the Schmierer family.
Mike and Barb Schmierer created a student success endowment in their name and have been loyal annual donors to the College of Engineering for more than 20 years.
Although neither is an engineer or an Oregon State alum, their family formed strong connections to the college and university through their son, Paul, who graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 2005. Shortly after finishing college, Paul landed a job in research and development at Sage Fly Fishing, a maker of high-end fishing rods and reels based in Washington.
“When Paul was in college, his big passions were skateboarding, biking, and fly fishing,” Mike said. “He had several job offers with good companies after graduation, but he held out for something related to his love of outdoor recreation.”
As a family, the Schmierers have always enjoyed fishing together, and they went on lots of trips when the kids were growing up. One favorite location was Barb’s brother’s place, on a lake in Northern Idaho, where Paul and his sister, Emily, would catch perch by the bucketful.
“Perch are kind of tricky. They take your bait, and instead of swimming away, they go up,” Mike said. “We had to refine our method of catching them. The kids got so good at it that I had to cut them off at 50, because that’s about as many as I wanted to have to clean.”
Mike started fishing in his youth and has been going after steelhead for well over 60 years. He ties his own flies — a practice he finds deeply relaxing, like meditation — and has even designed and built his own rods. Barb first got hooked after she married Mike, although she developed a passion for fly fishing in particular more recently, on a trip to Alaska, where she kept landing pink salmon and pike one after another.
“It’s the land of the midnight sun,” she said. “I went out there at 11 p.m. after everybody else had given up. I just wanted to stay out there all night. That was my first time fly fishing.”
Mike and Barb both grew up in Washington, meeting as students at Washington State University. Mike graduated in 1971 and started his career as a math teacher. Barb graduated a couple of years later and moved to Portland to become a nurse at Oregon Health & Science University. Mike followed her to Oregon, and the two were married a year later.
A family photo of Mike, Barb, and Paul Schmierer on one of many fishing outings.
After the children arrived, Barb chose to take time off from her nursing career while Mike taught in the Lake Oswego School District. He would retire from the district in 2003 after 30 years of teaching math to junior high and, later, high school students. If he hadn’t been a teacher, Mike says, he might have followed a path similar to his son’s.
“I could have been an engineer,” Mike said. “My father was an industrial arts teacher, and he had skills that went far beyond those of your typical shop teacher. He was very, very good at building things. I got that from him. So, I think Paul probably has it in his genes.”
As a child, Paul was interested in Lego and other building sets, his parents recall, but his interest in engineering really developed after he got to Oregon State. As a student, he was active in Baja Beaver Racing, in which students design, build, test, promote, and race cars in competition with other teams from around the country. His parents traveled with the team to national events in Ohio and Arizona and got to know them well.
“That was a very good program for Paul,” Barb said. “It really added a lot to his college experience. We have talked it up to other people over the years. It’s great hands-on experience, where they learn problem-solving and collaboration.”
Mike compares the team to the New York Yankees.
“Everyone just expects them to put up a good car year after year,” he said. “They’ve been in the top five the whole time we’ve followed them.”
Paul says the Baja Beaver Racing experience helped him to land his dream job after graduation. He arrived to his interview at Sage armed with a portfolio, from which he could refer to specific examples of how he had dealt with challenges while designing and building a racecar for competition.
That interview, to which Paul had worn a suit, ended with him casting flies from an R&D dock into a pond at Sage headquarters with company founder Don Green. Paul won’t hazard a guess as to whether his fly-casting skills played any part in his getting the job, but his father is a bit less circumspect.
“I think it sealed the deal,” Mike said.
Both of Paul’s parents are proud of their son, and of the life he’s made for himself after graduation. “He gets to go to some pretty exotic places and have some outrageous fishing,” Mike said. “Somebody has to do all that hard work in the field, making sure things work right.”