COLUMBIANA-A diehard sports fan, Columbiana resident Bill Schneidmiller recently met his favorite all-time athlete, golfing legend Jack NIcklaus. Schneidmiller became a Nicklaus fan when Nicklaus beat Arnold Palmer in the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont. On May 29 of this year, Schneidmiller not only met the golfing great, but had the opportunity to spend approximately 40 minutes, talking with Nicklaus and his wife Barbara during the Muirfield Golf Memorial Classic in Dublin, Ohio.
Schneidmiller's meeting with Nicklaus was arranged through the Wish of a Lifetime Foundation which was founded by two-time Olympic skier and former NFL player Jeremy Bloom.
Wish of a Lifetime's mission is to foster respect and appreciation for seniors by fulfilling life enriching wishes and a belief that most seniors have one thing in their life that they have always wanted to experience. Schneidmiller's daughter Leanne Christensen submitted the request on her father's behalf.
"I didn't think I stood a chance of getting to meet Jack," said Schneidmiller, who estimates that he has seen Nicklaus play at least 25 times in person, most of them during the time he lived in southern California. "Due to my being a salesman, I was able to work my schedule so that I could make it to a number of his tournaments in California."
"He was as nice as could be," said Schneidmiller, who still plays golf three times a week at the age of 82. "My daughter Leanne and I were escorted into the VIP Center at Muirfield. About five minutes later, Jack walked in. He was so easy to talk to. It was just like sitting here talking to you. The biggest thing that sticks with me is how friendly he was. We talked about some of his past tournaments and some of his matches with Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson. His wife Barbara even stopped by for about 15 minutes. She was also very nice."
After graduating from East Liverpool in 1948, Schneidmiller spent four years playing minor league baseball, toiling in such outposts as Rocky Mount and Greenville in the Coastal Plains League, Rockingham (Tobacco State), Youngstown/Oil City (Middle Atlantic) and Magic Valley (Pioneer League) from 1949-1952.
"Due to the shortage of players due to World War II, I had started playing in the City League in East Liverpool, when I was only 14 years old," said Schneidmiller. "I primarily played shortstop and second base. I had been an Indians fan all my life, but my dad was friends with a St. Louis Cardinals scout by the name of Forbes Alcock, who convinced me to sign with St. Louis. They had a vast minor league system. That's how I ended up in Rocky Mount. I eventually realized that I wasn't going to reach the majors, so I decided it was time to settle down and find a full-time job."
Schneidmiller laughed as he thought back to his minor league days.
"It seemed like the Rocky Mount bus broke down just about every other road trip," he said with a smile. "Those weren't the best buses and the ballparks were something else."
Schneidmiller, who married Patricia Reed in 1952, initially worked at Harker Pottery in Chester. During this time, he started officiating/umpiring baseball, basketball and football while also coaching in the local Pony League.
"We left East Liverpool in 1964, going to Las Vegas where I worked in sales for three years for AAA (American Automobile Association). Pat had a cousin who worked for them out there and he told me about the opening. After we saw the beaches of southern California on a vacation trip, we decided that I should try to get transferred to there. We loved the beach areas. Due to a solid sales record, I was able to get transferred to Garden Grove.
During these moves, Schneidmiller continued to officiate high school basketball, eventually hanging up his whistle in 1990.
"I truly enjoyed the game," said Schneidmiller. "Thirty-five years seems like a long time to officiate, but it really went by very quickly. It kept me involved in sports and also kept me in shape."
Moving back to Columbiana County in 1992, Schneidmiller is still active, serving as the secretary of a Monday night golf league at Valley Golf Course and a Wednesday morning traveling golf group.
"On Wednesdays, we play a different course each week. I'm responsible for setting up the schedule and securing tee times. It seems as though I have been involved in sports all my life," Schneidmiller said. "I love the competitiveness of sports and the friendships that you build."
For those interested in learning more about Wish of a Lifetime, the organization can be reached at 303-954-9144. Their website is firstname.lastname@example.org.