Starting With A Strong Foundation
by Craig Schroeder
The following story was featured in the Fall 2010 Brown Bear Magazine
To say former Brown cross country runner Landon Schmitt ’03 was a frequent traveler would be a gross underestimation of his life. Belgium, China, Sri Lanka, Syria, Israel and New Zealand are just a sampling of the places he explored. He eventually settled on Viet Nam, living there for the final five years of his life. Having seen most of what the world has to offer, Landon’s family has fittingly decided to help those who never will, establishing the Landon Carter Schmitt Memorial Fund, to build a boarding school for visually impaired and disadvantaged children in Viet Nam, among other projects.
After being admitted to Brown for mid-year enrollment in January of 2000, Landon left his hometown of McLean, Virginia to spend the fall semester in Viet Nam with an international exchange program. He studied the language, culture and history of Viet Nam and developed a fondness for the country. Landon then spent the next four years on College Hill, concentrating in international relations and earning two letters in cross country.
In the spring of 2004, Landon was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship which brought him back to Viet Nam where he interviewed veterans of the Viet Nam People’s Army who had fought the French and Americans. It was during this time that Landon’s love for Viet Nam blossomed and he decided to stay following the conclusion of his Fellowship.
After working for IDG Ventures in Hanoi for three years, he moved to Ho Chi Min City – formerly Saigon – in 2008 where he became the Vice President of Indochina Development Partners. During this time, Landon worked on a fundraiser with the Global Community Service Foundation (GCSF), an organization that works to eradicate poverty in Southeast Asia.
Tragically, on June 4, 2009, Landon died from injuries sustained in a fall from his apartment building in Saigon. Following his death, the Schmitt family turned to GCSF to help found the Landon Carter Schmitt Memorial Fund, which will provide financing for capital projects in Viet Nam that serve the needs of children, especially those with physical disabilities or medical issues, who are economically disadvantaged. The Fund’s first project will be constructing the Landon Carter Schmitt Boarding School for Children with Visual Disabilities in Dong Ha, Quang Tri Province, Viet Nam.
Landon Carter Schmitt '03.
(Photo courtesy Dick Schmitt P'98 '03) “When you are faced with a tragedy such as this, you have two choices,” said Landon’s father Dick Schmitt P’98 ’03, “you can let it destroy you and muddle in your own self sorrow, or you can turn around and try to do something positive with it. This doesn’t denigrate in anyway the sadness we’ll feel for the rest of our lives, but I think this school is something Landon would be very proud of.”
At the time of Landon’s passing, the Schmitt family says they were overwhelmed with the outpouring of support from the Brown community. “Both the men’s and women’s cross country teams sent us flowers while we were in Saigon,” said Dick Schmitt. “We received hundreds of emails from teammates, classmates and friends, and many were two-to-three pages long. To take the time to sit and write two pages to the family of a friend that died, that’s a testimony to the type of students Brown attracts to their campus.”
The Brown community has contributed much more than just their time since Landon’s passing. Scott MacDonald ’02 – a teammate of Landon’s – has spearheaded the fundraising amongst the cross country alumni. The eagerness to contribute has come as no shock to MacDonald. “Our team shared thousands of miles worth of runs together, most of which is spent telling stories and debating any topic that comes to mind. This shared time together meant that teammates forged great friendships and this is where we all got to truly know and love Landon. At any time he would be loud, funny, serious, insightful, opinionated or open-minded. He was daring and fearless. I know many of the guys that were on the cross country team with Landon considered him a very dear friend and we admired him greatly.”
As the Foundation begins preparations to build the school, the support of the Brown community continues to be a powerful presence. Erik Churchill ’03 and Matt Emond ’04 – also former cross country teammates – are both lending their expertise in the field of architecture to the project. “I think of Landon almost daily and only 1% of the time is it in the context of the LCS school project,” said Emond. “He is a constant source of inspiration; propelling me to love more, to take chances, and to hold nothing back.”
Churchill hopes the project will give these children an opportunity to be positively affected by Landon in the same way he was while at Brown. “Landon had an infectious smile, the ability to make people burst out laughing, and the ability to elevate the aspirations of those around him,” said Churchill. “It is my hope that I can contribute to designing a facility…that will provide a place to lift their aspirations, make them smile, and even give them a place to burst out laughing with their friends; the same way Landon did for all of us.”
Landon Schmitt (third from the left) and Dabney Schmitt P'98 '03 (second from the right) visit the Quang Tri Province Blind Association Building, 2007.
(Photo courtesy Dick Schmitt P'98 '03) The Quang Tri Province is located in the Central Highlands of Viet Nam and is where some of the heaviest fighting of the Viet Nam War occurred. This area was also sprayed heavily with Agent Orange. While there has been no causal relationship established, the Province does have an unusually high number of children born with multiple disabilities. Add the number of people who have lost their sight due to unexploded landmines populating the area and the need for the school becomes quite evident.
In discussing the decision to have the school’s focus be on visually impaired children, Dick Schmitt says it was his older son, Jonathan ’98, who put everything in perspective. “One night he said, ‘It’s very difficult to think of a category of people that are more at risk than children who are socio-economically disadvantaged and visually impaired.”
In an agrarian society such as Viet Nam’s, having a child with a disability that prevents them from working can be twice as difficult for the family. “When the average family income is $18 a month and you have a child unable to help in the fields, you’re much more likely to give them to an organization,” said Schmitt.
The initial project aims at serving between 30-50 children between the ages of 6 and 18. While basic education will be handled by local schools, the LCS School will provide supplemental education with activities and skill sets focused on the visually impaired. From music and technology programs to athletics and mobility training, these skills will enable graduates of the school to integrate into mainstream society, which is the ultimate goal of the school. It will be completely self-contained with dining facilities, dormitory rooms, a technology laboratory, study rooms and classrooms for age-appropriate instruction.
To date, the LCS Memorial Fund has raised $170,000 and secured an area of 4.5 acres of land from the Vietnamese government where the school will be built. If all continues to go well, the plans for the building will be finalized by the end of this year and groundbreaking will take place in the first quarter of 2011.
For more information on the LCS Memorial Fund please visit www.globalcommunityservice.org/landon.
Craig Schroeder is the Communications and Marketing Manager for the Brown University Sports Foundation.