Remembering Michael

Remembering Michael

Remembering Michael Hulshof-Schmidt

December 10, 1966 – January 30, 2021

Born in Cleveland in 1966, Michael spent his early years in Ohio and Texas. He, his mother,  two younger brothers, and his adoptive father eventually settled in Nashville, where the family took up residence not too far from luminaries like Dolly Parton, whom Michael used to see walking out to collect her mail. In fact, legend has it that Gentleman Jim Reeves’ plane had gone down right in the vicinity of the Schmidt’s backyard, giving teenage Michael a little pause as he’d wander the grounds, unsure of what he’d find. This close proximity to the world of country music led Michael eventually to take a position at the Country Music Hall of Fame, where he always maintained that he was among the most popular tour guides in its history, recounting the stories of the musicians’ lives with his own distinct brand of humor.

Though it’s impossible to believe he was in college 35 years ago since he was still only in his 30s last year, Michael began college at Lambuth University in 1985 before moving to Atlanta in 1987 to attend Oglethorpe University. He earned his BA in English in 1989 and stayed on as the residence hall director until 1991. His friends from that era (who are also stunningly young) can’t think of him without smiling. Unafraid to challenge his professors or peers when he thought they were being narrow-minded or rigid, he was also eager to support faculty and students who needed his encouragement, whether academically or emotionally. He was part of a tight-knit group of friends but also warm and welcoming to everyone, always up to drive friends to a late-night dinner out at the Peachtree Street IHOP, a Carly Simon cassette playing all the way there. He also created many delicious, home-cooked meals in his tiny campus kitchen, serving dinner with candles flickering on the table. Even at this early stage of life, when many people are still figuring out their own identities, Michael was committed to social justice work; queer students and students of color, especially, knew they could count on Michael to be a supportive friend and advocate. Michael nourished people, body and soul, in so many ways, whether with a sundae, a book pressed into your hands, a deep conversation, or a shoulder to lean (and maybe cry) on. And just when the seriousness might seem too much, he’d lighten the mood with one of his patented, faux-acerbic jabs. Anyone at the receiving end of one of these volleys knew that they were indeed loved.

After Oglethorpe, Michael spent two years in Chicago earning his MA in English and Women’s Studies from DePaul University before returning to Atlanta. Over the next decade or so, Michael worked tirelessly (while wearing a wide variety of turtlenecks and blazers) to cultivate the friendships and communities that were so central to his life. He worked for a time at the Ridgeview Institute, an addiction/behavioral health hospital in Atlanta. There he cultivated some of the closest friendships of his post-collegiate life with other staff members, and would often reflect fondly on his time there, recalling both comic and sometimes-harrowing adventures.  After a variety of jobs teaching students with various learning challenges, Michael became one of the founding faculty of the Atlanta Girls School in 2000. As a teacher at AGS, Michael threw himself into a program designed to build girls’ self-esteem and academic excellence by connecting them to each other and to feminist principles. A fierce feminist himself, Michael found his calling not in shaping other people’s lives but in helping them shape their own. One of his AGS students recalls, “He never let me take the easy way out, he gave me a safe place for me to be me, and he never let me forget how amazing it was to be a woman. He loved his students so much.” Many of his students from that era still count him among their most formative influences.

Michael met the love of his life, Robert, in Atlanta in 1999, and the two built a loving home together. A joyful wedding in March 2002 brought together friends and family to celebrate, and they recommitted to one another in 2014 in the age of marriage equality. But no ceremony or piece of paper was necessary to show the world how much Michael and Robert loved and cared for one another (and for their coterie of feline landlords). They readily welcomed friends into their home, often with a stiff drink (which somehow turned into five or six) and an elegant, decadent meal. Though Michael and Robert’s departure for Oregon in 2005 was a hard pill for their Atlanta community to swallow, friends knew the couple would create a new community in the Northwest while still staying connected to their friends in the Southeast. It was time to share the love with folks out west.

Michael and Robert moved briefly to Robert’s hometown, Albany, before settling in SW Portland where they served bottomless martinis and laughs. Michael served as the Director of Middle School at Portland Jewish Academy and was Founding Head of School at the soon-to-be opened International High School of Portland. Unfortunately, the economic downturn meant the school was never able to open.

Fortunately, it led Michael’s renaissance. In addition to studying for his Master’s in Social Work program at Portland State, he launched his consultancy, EqualityWorks NW, and began penning his popular blog Social Justice For All where he provided meaningful social commentary in witty, insightful, personal writing about a range of social justice topics and current events.

As a fierce advocate for social change with a kind and generous heart, Michael was always attuned to both individual experience and the larger socio-political context so pursuing a Master’s in Social Work was an obvious choice for him. One of Michael’s MSW classmates from his graduate program at Portland State University shared his significant impact on their cohort: “SW Class of 2013 was deeply informed by Michael’s presence in our classes, discussions, gatherings, and study groups. Michael’s embodiment of fierce love, his contagious laugh, and his ever-present critical analysis was integral in the formation of my belief that Social Work must be simultaneously honest/critical/hilarious and transformative.”

Michael started teaching at Portland State University in the School of Social Work in 2013.

As an instructor, his passion for social justice, talent for teaching, and care for students was a true gift to the School while his humor, brilliance, and mentorship was a light for students and faculty alike. Michael’s love of his work was palpable and, similar to his time at AGS, Michael’s PSU students often recall their classes with him as amongst the most formative in their education.  As one colleague reflected: “I’m still striving to create the kind of community Michael built in his classrooms, and everywhere he went. His humor, generosity, and capacity to be present with someone were remarkable gifts.” In his time at PSU, Michael touched countless lives (of both students and faculty/staff) and built deep, long-lasting friendships.

In 2015, Michael turned his focus solely to his consulting business, EqualityWorks, NW, focusing all of his training and coaching efforts on racial equity, anti-oppression, gender justice, and helping organizations do their work with a stronger social justice lens. In doing so, Michael also shared his brilliance, humor, and sharp analysis as a trainer, organizational consultant and keynote speaker to numerous groups around the state of Oregon. One of his clients in southern Oregon, where he built a special reputation and community, summed up his approach: “You allowed us to sit in knowledge while creating a safe environment where individuals could go at their own pace while digesting your wonderful humor. We  were in admiration of how capable you are in holding space for others to feel safe. I applaud your gift and dedication to the freeing of oppression through knowledge and deep love.”

Throughout the past four years, Michael’s battle with cancer and overall health never slowed down his passion for social justice or his wicked sense of humor. He would offer you the food in his cupboards, and then accuse you of stealing his fine silver. He accumulated friends with his empathy and kindness. We are all better people for being part of his world.

Michael was dedicated to social justice causes near and far. Please consider remembering him with a donation to one of his favorite charities:

Show the Love for Michael Hulshof-Schmidt on Facebook

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How did we get so lucky to have such an incredible teacher? He understood high school girl humor. Maybe he taught it to us? I will always remember how much fun we had on the AGS bus with you- rocking out!! Much love to you Robert. ... See MoreSee Less
Saturday February 13th

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He really understood the youths and our use of the facebookspacesnaptok

I miss you. ... See MoreSee Less
Saturday February 13th

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I downloaded “Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About”. It makes me smile and brings a tear to my eye.

Just popped up on my FB feed from about 7-8 years ago.  A fun and silly day just being together and laughing.   Thank you for the joy you always brought to every situation Michael.  How we will miss you!!Image attachment
I have not a clue what we were saying here, but it is still how I will always remember Michael. Few people could draw everyone into the joy the way he could.

Comment on Facebook

Wonderful capture 💜❤️

I love this picture so much!

Perfect! 😘

Boy did you nail it, this is exactly how I feel about Michael as well. He could make me laugh, I mean those deep, wonderful belly laughs...nearly every time I was in his company...I will forever hold these memories close to me heart...❤️

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This is a poem I wrote  for Michael.  I miss him.

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Damn it, Brad- it's so beautiful.

Absolutely beautiful, Brad.

Such a great poem and Michael is all over it.

Those of us who knew only the smallest bits of him are so saddened ourselves. I cannot imagine your sorrow. This is a beautiful tribute.💔

Beautiful writing.

Brad that is beautiful! Thanks so much for sharing it.

This is amazing.

thank you for sharing, Brad. I remember your talent just as I remember these kinds of comments from Michael.

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Thank you Michael for the joy, love, light and laughter you shared with the world. It is evident how many lives you touched during your life. We were all so fortunate to have been in your presence and to have laughed as a result of your incredibly sharp wit. Thank you for being openly out and for living a truly authentic life.
When I heard the news for some reason out of everything poems by poets we would talk about, Lucille Clifton, Gwendolyn Brooks, Adrienne Rich and Walt Whitman, started kicking around my head. When Mary Oliver instructed, “So come to the pond, or the river of your imagination, or the harbor of your longing, and put your lips to the world. And live your life,” you listened. You thinned gin, you sang the body electric, you spoke remembering we were never meant to survive, and you walked into a room just as cool as you pleased. I keep coming back to the words of Lucille Clifton, “won't you celebrate with me/ what i have shaped into/ a kind of life? i had no model.” Yes, we will celebrate you, the life you shaped, and the kindness you shared with all.
Sending all my love to Robert and your beloved kitties. May you rest in power ❤️
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Tuesday February 9th

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This was so well put. <3

So sorry to hear. I went to Lambuth with Michael and was roommates with his brother Chris ... See MoreSee Less
Wednesday February 10th
I am still speechless, ❤️
Thank you, Michael, for the love and light you let shine through your actions. So many of us have been blessed by your life and your example. Thank you for showing me, in my first years of teaching, what it truly meant to be a devoted educator and mentor. May you Rest In Peace, knowing you left your corner of this world better than you found it. ... See MoreSee Less
Friday February 5th
I can’t remember the exact year but some time in the early 00’s. What an adorable couple! 😍

Comment on Facebook

What an amazing picture!

I love this so much! Thank you for sharing 💕

How sweet!!

Amazing!! True, lasting love!! <3 ...

Love the smiles, and the denim fashion! 😸

Such a great photo of good looking people.

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Dear Michael-

You embody what it mean to be human, in all the very best ways. Generous, hilarious, witty, compassionate, kind, passionate, wise, welcoming, and so much more. You are one of the most hospitable people I've ever known. Thank you for always making me feel special, and for helping me love & accept myself. Thank you for caring so deeply about justice and equity and human dignity and respect. Thank you for the many ways you've made the world more beautiful. It was a tremendous honor and gift to officiate yours & Robert's wedding in Atlanta. I love you, and I'm forever grateful to Doug, Nancy, Susan and Carol for sharing you with me.
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Sunday January 31st
One of my favorite memories of Michael—absolutely rocking out (on stage!) at my Bat Mitzvah 😂

Comment on Facebook

What a wonderful picture!

Perfect.

Fabulous

What an awesome photo!

Jane - I look back on your bat mitzvah fondly. What a great day! And I distinctly remember Michael being there

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A few of us at the very first AGS mixer

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Sarah, Katie, Joy and you!!!!

Joy Jorgensen

I still have the t-shirt hanging on the fence behind the group. I kept all of the t-shirts from the first 10+ years!

I’ve been trying to find the words that equate to the weight I’ve been feeling that has not already been said. So, I’ll just go with this. This week, I was asked to reflect on educators in my life that have had an impact and why. I’m sure it’s no surprise to any student, or human, who was blessed enough to be in Michael’s presence but you were, without a second of hesitation, the first person who came to mind. I have never felt more loved, challenged, seen, or respected by an educator than I did in the community you so carefully cultivated and held, while doing some of the hardest work that I continue to unpack each and every day . I’ll cherish every moment, and positive regard, I was lucky enough to soak in, and I’ll never forget the spark that ignited when you believed in me, when I was learning how to believe in myself ♥️ ... See MoreSee Less
Wednesday February 3rd
There are people in our lives that have the ability to touch us in such a profound way that decades later you wonder what they would think or feel about something you were doing. Michael has been one of those for me. Even when I was resistant to his lesson or just defiant I was listening and I did care. To begin to list all he did for me would be a monumental task, so I won't list them all. He never let me take the easy way out, he gave me a safe place for me to be me, and he never let me forget how amazing it was to be a woman. He loved his students so much. I know because he would tell is (jokingly) that we were going to drive him to drink in the morning. And he sang the best rendition of Rise and Shine that I have ever heard. Ok my metal armed Peter Pan think of happy thoughts and fly. ... See MoreSee Less
Wednesday February 3rd
I was fortunate enough while in grad school to be able to take one of Michael’s classes. I loved how he played music at the end of the class! He was so warm, welcoming and kind. He challenged me to be curious and dig deeper and for this I am a better social worker today. I thank you Michael for you all you have done in this world. Feeling so grateful to have known him. Sending healing energy to all that knew him. ... See MoreSee Less
Wednesday February 3rd
I knew Michael for only a short time, but felt such an affinity for him. Michael was such a kind hearted and generous of spirit person. He was authentic and unbelievably warm and welcoming. His presence will be missed. Robert, I only met you twice, but am grateful that you two amazing people found each other in this world. ... See MoreSee Less
Wednesday February 3rd
There are two lessons from Michael that impact me often to this day and have become a part of my life and my work.
The first is the lesson of The Hammer & The Tweezers- Using a variety of tools for different approaches and different conditions of interpersonal and community work.
The second is the bravery and empowerment of feeling & expressing deeply. Michael was the first person I saw in a position of leadership (man or otherwise) who cried openly and expressed love for the humanness of others in a way that de-stigmatized those tears. He showed me, not just told me, that caring about things deeply and expressing emotions is brave and powerful, not weak. What a lesson to offer the World.
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Wednesday February 3rd

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Yes. Thank you for sharing. I had forgotten the hammer and tweezers. ❤️

I keep seeing all these lovely photos that feature our beloved Michael HS that appear to be from the 80s and 90s and early 2000s where Michael appears to be a full grown adult. I just don’t understand.

Michael HS isn’t a day over 23 and so he couldn’t possibly be the same person in these photos.

Unless he is also a time traveler.

No wonder he was able to acquire so many sets of pearls over the years that always seem to disappear whenever, well frankly, anyone visited or hugged him.
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Sunday January 31st

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Not only that but his comfortability in using the social medias. Truly amazing how fluent he is in the language and culture of today’s youth. Hard to tell the difference between him and the high schoolers I work with. Michael is an incredible man who found the fountain of youth. Sending love! ❤️❤️❤️

He is eternal

He got a laugh EVERY time he said that too whether it was to just 4 people or a room of 500!! 😂

March 2019 dinner at Chart House in Portland. Not our last visit but last I had photos from. A night filled with laughs, booze, and great stories! 
So glad I Re-routed my returning flight from Australia to join this group for 36 hours!
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3 Comments

  1. Rob Berick 3 months ago

    I grew up with Michael in Cleveland, where we were good buddies in elementary school and junior high. It is impossible for me to think of my childhood and not think of the fun times we shared.

    May his memory be a blessing. May he Rest In Peace at last.

  2. Virginia Nickerson 3 months ago

    Michael taught me to be a better parent when our son was in elementary school where he was teaching. His abilities to tune into the minds of those young people was incredible. Michael’s kindness and love of others were very wonderful gifts that he shared.

  3. Bob Gruber 1 month ago

    Tonight, I was going through my dining room buffet and found a bottle of MD 20/20 Red Grape Wine wrapped in a green velvet gift bag. The bottle is over 15 years old.

    We started sharing this bottle between Michael and Robert, Shawn Morgan and Todd Cano and Christopher Guadian and me when one couple moved. Michael of course, started it.

    It bought back memories and fun times with much laughter. I think he meant for me to find it. We miss him so much. I will always smile and laugh when I think of him. What an amazing legacy.

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