Near to the Heart

Each passing second immediately following a stroke is critical. Perhaps no one understands this more than Traverse City native Kevin Schmuckal, who suddenly suffered a middle cerebral artery (MCA) stroke just days shy of his 43rd birthday.

“I was working out at the gym, and I was lucky enough to be in the same class as my wife; she was a couple of treadmills down from me and noticed physical changes to my face,” Schmuckal said. “I didn’t understand what was happening at the time. It was a very confusing situation – I actually tried to continue to run on the treadmill.”

Schmuckal, who now lives outside Atlanta with his family, was quickly airlifted to Grady Memorial Hospital, where he received immediate intervention.

“I got the care that I needed quickly,” he said. “It saved my life and helped save my livelihood to be able to recover as quickly as I have, with very minimal side effects.”

Ten months after his stroke, Kevin was running a marathon in Minneapolis, after an invitation from Medtronic to be one of their Global Champions – athletes who’ve conquered a medical condition.

“Age was in his favor, and the medical availability being so close by,” Kevin’s dad, Paul, explained. “Had he been in northern Michigan at the time, he wouldn’t have had the same timeliness of options.”

So, when the Schmuckal family learned about Munson Healthcare’s new interventional stroke program through their foundation, The Art and Mary Schmuckal Family Foundation, it was a no-brainer. Now managed by Art and Mary’s four children – Paul, Don, Evelyn, and Barb – alongside four grandchildren (including Kevin) and two close family friends, the foundation readily approved a generous $500,000 donation to the program, one of their largest to date.

“We’ve always been supportive of Munson [Healthcare] and of medical advancements in the area,” said Paul, Art and Mary’s firstborn son and the foundation’s treasurer. “So when my sister Evelyn pitched the amount, it took no hesitation to approve it.”

Evelyn Richardson, who worked locally as a registered nurse and serves as secretary of her family’s foundation, understood the stroke program’s impact from both a personal and professional perspective. “How blessed our region is to have this level of medical treatment available to reduce many complications of a stroke,” Richardson said. “And for family, loved ones, and significant others to be with the patient instead of the patient being airlifted downstate.”

Barb Benson, the foundation’s president as well as Art and Mary’s youngest, believes her parents would be more than thrilled to support Munson Healthcare’s leading-edge stroke program – one of just a handful in the nation to feature ARTIS Icono biplane technology for 3-D stroke intervention.

“Seeing how far medical care has come to have saved the life of their grandson, they would be all in,” she shared.

A Long Legacy of Support

The Art and Mary Schmuckal Family Foundation – established in 1999 by Art Schmuckal in honor of his late wife Mary, who passed away from cancer earlier that year – was formed to support local charitable endeavors. The foundation champions children, education, and the moral and spiritual fabric of communities in the Grand Traverse region (and eventually beyond).

Art, a Hannah native who started out as a dairy farmer, eventually transitioned into the petroleum business in 1955. His co-operated business, Slane and Schmuckal Oil Co., quickly began selling heating oil to local homes as well as diesel fuel, gasoline, tires, and other automobile-related products to local service stations. When his partner moved to California in the 1960s, Art purchased the company and changed its name to Schmuckal Oil, which would operate under Art, followed by his son Paul, for over 60 years.

In addition to running their oil business, living a life of service was a passion for both Art and Mary – whether at the local political, business scene, or church level. Long-time supporters of their community hospital, the Schmuckals have donated to many causes over the decades, including $250,000 towards Munson Medical Center’s emergency department in 2005, followed by another $250,000 donation to cancer treatment a year before Art’s death in 2012.

“Dad was a community person and a businessman. Mother grew up in Petoskey, so we were all raised with that northern Michigan respect. All four of us would say we were very lucky to have Mom and Dad as parents,” Paul said. “They taught us love and respect. We shared and loved and cared for each other.”

A Gift from the Heart

Prior to his family foundation’s generous gift, Paul personally donated $300,000 to the stroke program.

“I have a long history of being brought up thinking that Traverse City has a great medical hospital and reputation, so this was just a follow-up,” he said.

For Paul, the cause had also struck a more visceral chord given his son’s experience – as well as that of longtime family friend and Traverse City resident Pat Heintz. Like Kevin Schmuckal, Heintz had a stroke in early 2020 while visiting friends in Philadelphia and was able to receive timely, life-saving care because of his location.

“It made it personal,” Paul said. “It was near to the heart to be able to say, we now have that capability in Traverse City.”

Thanks to the Schmuckal family’s generosity, people in northern Michigan now have access to the same interventional stroke treatment options as they would in any large metropolitan area.

“I am incredibly proud that our family and donation is in a position to help the community and help others,” Kevin said. “Had this happened to me in Traverse City at the time, it most likely would’ve been a completely different scenario. I’m just really happy that Munson will have this capability to help other people and get the quality of care that I received, which I know will save people’s lives and help them recover in a much better way than they would without this.”