Former Palo Alto banker Carl Schmitt dies

Founder of University National Bank (Comerica) supported local nonprofit organizations

Carl Schmitt, who founded University National Bank in Palo Alto in 1980 and became locally famous for bringing in bags of Walla Walla sweet onions for his customers every year, died last Thursday in Walla Walla, Wash. He was 73.

Schmitt, a former state superintendent of banks in California, was best known in the Palo Alto area as the founding chairman and CEO of University National Bank, which merged with Detroit-based Comerica Bank in 1995 in a shareholder-approved $76 million deal.

He won a Tall Tree Award from the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce in 1995, for both his business leadership and community involvement. He supported many local non-profit organizations, including the Museum of American Heritage, the American Red Cross, the Children's Health Council and the Ecumenical Hunger Program.

Friend and local developer Tig Tarleton said Schmitt's wife, Sonia, told him Schmitt, who had a heart pacemaker, died while taking a nap.

"We've all lost a very unique friend," Tarleton said. "He had bigger-than-life passions," including restoring antique cars and photography.

Schmitt retired in 1996 and he and Sonia moved back to Walla Walla, where they had met as students at Whitman College. He became a member of the Whitman College Board of Trustees after they returned to Washington state.

Schmitt also became involved in an effort to preserve a 100-year-old industrial building that the city wanted to tear down. Schmitt sued to stop the demolition but lost in court. He then bought the building and turned it into a winery and a restaurant.

Tarleton said he asked Schmitt what he was doing opening a restaurant when, as a banker, he knew how risky restaurant ventures were.

"There's no decent place to eat here," Schmitt replied.

Schmitt was a native of Los Altos.

In addition to his wife, Schmitt is survived by his son, Carl Jr., of Walla Walla and daughter, Emily, of Vashon Island, near Seattle.


Posted by WilliamR, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 25, 2008 at 10:36 pm

I was an early customer of University National Bank, when they had their first office at Lytton and Florence. Carl Schmitt sent an invitation to the bank's customers to come in one evening for a slide show of his then-recent trip to China. They had a bunch of chairs set up in the lobby area, and served punch and cookies. Not many bankers do things like that nowadays.

Posted by trudy, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 28, 2008 at 3:24 am

I'm sorry to hear this.

Posted by Kathy B., a resident of another community
on Aug 12, 2013 at 1:51 pm

My husband (who is now deceased) had a graphic design business in the late 70's early 80's in Palo Alto and became a customer of University National Bank - we were treated well which included being invited to the bank's many special functions - which included receiving a bag of Walla Walla onions. I just found this website because, as one of the many special thank you gifts the bank sent to their business customers was a series of cards that had printed specific information about other banks and special dates in history and I just found a few of them - I'd like to know if these have any value, and/or should I keep them?

I would appreciate any information anyone could supply in reference to these printed cards. On the "Hapy Anniversary" info card of one of these series I have states "Best Wishes" from Chairman, Carl J. Schmitt and President, Herbert C. Foster.

Kathy B

Posted by Ed F, a resident of another community
on Sep 30, 2013 at 1:06 am

I have nothing but good memories of Carl. He was a very respectful and inspirational person. During the construction of the multi-story bank building on Lytton Avenue, I attended jobsite meetings every Tuesday morning with Carl, the General Contractor's staff and the other trade's representatives. The Project Manager always made sure there were a few Cinnamon Crunch donuts available for Carl.

After the meetings and once the shell of the building existed, I would perform my work tasks. We always got a kick out of Carl roaming around the jobsite with his camera. We found out what he had been "up to" on the evening of the grand opening party . He had been taking pictures of the various trade workers performing their tasks, so that he could have blown-up photos of them framed and then installed in the hall corridors ! He appreciated that we all had helped to make that beautiful building possible, so he captured us while we were making it happen. What an awesome "Thank you" that was....

Carl never accepted that something was impossible, he even managed to get part of Lytton Avenue blocked-off on a WEEKDAY for a parade. He was a man of action and I will never forget him.
Rest in peace Carl.

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