Monday, November 13, 2006

Schimmel the Beer Man: He went from pitching Schlitz to pitching Rosaries!

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The customized license plate on Dick Schimmel's station wagon says it all: "ROSARY I."

Not that Schimmel, 77, is too shy to speak for himself. The former Schlitz beer salesman and retired house painter obviously has taken no vow of silence when someone shows a glimmer of interest in what has become his avocation and higher calling - distributing free rosaries in the United States and around the world.

"I don't want a museum," Schimmel said last week as he stood near vacant bar stools in the basement rec room of his Wauwatosa home and surveyed boxes filled with perhaps 35,000 rosaries of many hues. "I want these to go out to people to pray. I want to get them out and into the hands of people, to the missions, the prisons, the nursing homes, the hospitals and the schools all over the world. " 'Dick Schimmel, the Rosary Man,' that's my handle," he added.

His rosaries aren't like the Green Bay Packer-themed rosaries that skyrocketed in popularity at a south side market in 1997, the year the team won its first Super Bowl in 29 years. These are rank-and-file rosaries, serious strings of beads that don't blur the lines between sports and spirituality.

Yet Schimmel found a growing demand for these meditative tools when he started giving them away eight years ago. And he learned some modern-day realities, such as to send only rosaries with black beads to prison chaplains, because other colors can be used to designate gang affiliations.

Turning to a dog-eared notebook and a stack of meticulously written loose-leaf pages, he can point to his first donation - 100 rosaries on Aug. 5, 1998, to the Rosebud Sioux tribe's reservation in South Dakota for Father Richard Jones, a priest now living in retirement at the St. Camillus Jesuit Community in Wauwatosa. "Whenever I needed rosaries, I'd just write to him," said Jones, a former Marquette University High School president who served for more than 40 years on the reservation, where he left rosaries at the back of his church and handed them out at wakes.

Jones eventually got 7,500 rosaries. That's a small part of Schimmel's total, which on Thursday stood at 1,147,023 rosaries . . . not to mention the 3,500 statues of the Blessed Virgin, 25,000 religious medals and 5,000 scapulars he has given away. [...snip] Read More Journal Sentinel

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