Leon Schmidt, a noted philanthropist and businessman who owned the Yaring's line of clothing stores in Austin, passed away Friday, a family member said. He was 97.|
Schmidt grew up in Yorktown in DeWitt County in South Texas. His father, Jacob Schmidt, came to the U.S. as a young Hungarian immigrant with $18 in his pocket. In 1907, he sold dry goods out of a covered wagon in Seguin. Two years later, he opened a store called Jacob Schmidt in Yorktown. In 1930, he moved his store and family to Austin.
Leon Schmidt graduated from Austin High School in 1932. After getting his bachelor's degree from the University of Texas and his MBA from Harvard University, Schmidt returned to Austin to help run the family business.
In 1936, with the country rebounding from the Great Depression, Schmidt opened the first Yaring's store in a one-story building at 506 Congress Ave. He borrowed the name from his mother, whose maiden name was Yahr.
Yaring's was one of the first stores in the country to have a cosmetics counter and to start a mail-order lingerie business, his son-in-law Booka Michel said.
When many stores were segregated, Yaring's opened its doors to everyone, Michel said.
"It seems to me that he was as concerned with an individual he met on the street, no matter their race, creed or social standing, as we was with anyone he ever met in a board room," Michel said.
Schmidt was a WWII veteran and served in the Philippines.
The Yaring's chain of 10 stores was sold in 1993 to an Alabama company and Schmidt turned to real estate development. He was involved in the Arboretum development and others in Great Hills area of Austin, Michel said.
Schmidt was a noted philanthropist, donating a millions of dollars to Dell Children's Medical Center and Dell Jewish Community Center, as well as arts programs like Ballet Austin, Austin Symphony Orchestra and the Mexic-Arte Museum.
He is survived by his wife, Barbara, four children and eight grandchildren.
Published in Austin American-Statesman on Dec. 29, 2013