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.