A prime activist: Creator of Seattle Peace Park is dead at 105

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On a small wedge of green at the north end of Seattle's University Bridge stands a bronze statue of a 12-year-old Japanese girl holding a folded paper crane.

Her name was Sadako. She died of leukemia 12 years after an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The bombing and all of its ramifications were a guiding force for Floyd Schmoe, who created Seattle Peace Park, looking south over Lake Union, at the age of 95.

A lifelong peace activist revered in Japan, Mr. Schmoe would eventually celebrate his birthday six weeks early, on Aug. 6, to commemorate the day of the bombing and ensure he and others would never forget what had happened. During World War II, he gave up a forestry-teaching position at the University of Washington to help interned Japanese Americans.

Eventually, he was awarded Japan's highest civilian honor and nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Mr. Schmoe died Friday (April 20) at an adult-care home in Kenmore. He was 105.

Born in 1895 in Johnson County, Kan., Mr. Schmoe was many things in the course of his life: peace activist, forest ecologist, marine biologist, college professor and volunteer leader.

A sixth-generation Quaker, he wrote more than a dozen books, including "A Year in Paradise," a book about living on Mount Rainier.

'Quietly did his thing'

"He was quite a man, quite a man," said U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, who sponsored Mr. Schmoe's Nobel Peace Prize nominations. "We tend to honor more public figures, but this was a man who quietly did his thing a thousand different ways."

Mr. Schmoe was as taken with nature as he was given to humanitarian causes. As Mount Rainier's first official naturalist, from 1924 to 1928, he remembered seeing the peak for the first time. It had an allure he couldn't resist, and he wanted to hike right up to it until he realized just how far away it really was. Ultimately, he would become a mountain guide and climb it 14 times.

As founder of the park's "Nature Notes" feature, he was well known among park rangers. "Welcome back to your mountain, Mr. Schmoe!" they'd tell him when he came back to visit.

As a conscientious objector in World War I, Mr. Schmoe drove an ambulance, carting wounded soldiers off the battlefields of France. In World War II, he helped evacuate European Jews.

In the 1940s, when many of Seattle's Japanese Americans were relocated to internment camps in Idaho, Mr. Schmoe left his teaching job at the UW.

In 1948, moved to action by the U.S. nuclear bombing three years earlier of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he rounded up two dozen volunteers to rebuild homes there; five trips produced new homes for 30 Japanese families. It was an effort that helped garner him the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Japan's highest civilian honor.

Later, he helped build orphanages and hospitals, and dug ditches and wells in South Korea, Africa and the Middle East.

He counted among his friends Seattle first-grade teacher and peace activist Aki Kurose, for whom the Seattle School District renamed a middle school, and Tadatoshi Akiba, mayor of Hiroshima.

When Mr. Schmoe was 102, Glen and Karol Milner of Lake Forest Park endowed a scholarship in his honor in the Shoreline School District. The Floyd Schmoe Peace Scholarship is awarded annually to a Shorecrest High senior involved in good works.

A consuming curiosity

Mr. Schmoe was curious about everything, a quality he shared with his family on driving trips around the country and into Mexico.

"He was always teaching us," said daughter Ruthanna Higley of La Conner, Skagit County. "Anything was a learning experience."

Mr. Schmoe was preceded in death by his wife, Ruth; his oldest son, Kenneth; an infant daughter, Beth; and two brothers. Other survivors include son Bill, of Jackson, Wyo.; daughter Esther Hirabayashi, of Edmonton, Alberta; and sisters Karlena Lewis of Newberg, Ore., and Inez Voorhees of Whittier, Calif.

Also surviving are 15 grandchildren; 34 great-grandchildren; and two great-great-grandchildren.

Services will be at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at University Friends Meeting in Seattle.

In lieu of gifts, donations may be made to University Friends Meeting, 4001 Ninth Ave. N.E., Seattle, WA 98105; or to Shorecrest High School's Floyd Schmoe Peace Scholarship Fund, in care of Banner Bank, 10125 Main St., Bothell, WA 98011.

Marc Ramirez can be reached at 206-464-8102 or mramirez@seattletimes.com.