Oskar Schmidt met Ellen Hirning in 1968 in Tubingen, Germany, where they were both studying. Ellen, on her Junior Year Abroad from Tufts University, went back to Massachusetts and graduated before returning to marry Oskar in 1970.
After their first child Nora was born, Ellen and Oskar relocated to rural Katonah, New York, and began 18 years of bilingual intergenerational living with Ellen’s parents.
Ellen’s father was a psychiatrist and her mother a social worker. The enlarged family lived in a large home where all four adults with their numerous advanced degrees discussed world events, travelled widely and were employed in respected specialties.
Oskar’s parents were born in Hungary, and despite his mother’s objections, Oskar’s father had joined the Nazi party mistakenly believing it to be working class, anti-capitalist.
After World War II, many Hungarians were herded by Russian soldiers into cattle cars, transported to Germany and dumped out. Neither parent had attended school after age 10, and they struggled throughout their lives in low-paying jobs far from their homeland.
During their one visit to the U.S., the political/class/cultural contrasts between the grandparents were apparent, but they shared warm relationships. Ellen and Oskar travelled back to Germany many times after their second child, Robin, was born, and Oskar’s parents remained a part of the young family’s lives.
Once settled in the U.S., Oskar determined he did not wish to teach school as he had trained to do and enthusiastically commuted to New York City to study at the Swedish Massage Institute.
“We learned many classic modalities - shiatzu, sports massage, trigger-point and deep tissue massage to relax, to release, to recover,” Oskar said. “The combination of these modalities, along with all that I have studied and learned in the past 30 years of massage practice, have enabled me to support clients, tuning into their needs, their wishes.”
Oskar said he has had the same clients returning regularly for sometimes 30 years, and he’s gone to nursing homes and senior residential care to support the aging population and make life as comfortable as possible for the people living there.
After Ellen’s father died, the growing family researched communities that offered more diversity and community engagement. They loved the parks and gorges and the lively cultural and social life in Ithaca, and they found affordable housing with room to garden, have a massage studio and an apartment for Jeanne, Ellen’s mother.
When Ellen and Oskar and family organized their move to Ithaca, they researched if there were other massage therapists in the area in those pre-internet days. Local chiropractors understood how massage complemented their work, and New York state’s no-fault insurance provided reimbursement for massage.
When one Katonah client, Stephen Weiss, became the chair of Cornell’s Board of Trustees, suddenly, Ithaca newcomer Oskar was much in demand with the men’s tennis team.
“My family and I are very thankful for all your years of wonderful massage,” Stephen said. “You have kept our family healthy and relaxed.”
With the opening of the now-defunct Finger Lakes School of Massage, many therapists made this healing art more available in Ithaca. Oskar has enjoyed the camaraderie of other practitioners, attending and teaching workshops with other massage therapists for adult education and at community presentations throughout his 30-year practice.
Despite many massage therapists from whom to choose, devotees of Oskar’s work have returned regularly:
“Without my regular massage treatment by Oskar Schmidt, I wouldn’t be able to walk, much less enjoy my tennis,” said tennis star and Cornell faculty member Mickey Falkson. “I’ve gone weekly for the last 25 years, and my game is still strong. Everyone I have recommended him to has had favorable responses.”
Pausing to reflect upon and celebrate his 30 years in practice, Oskar embraced the choices he made as a young man.
“When I met Ellen, we just hit it off,” he said. “And our marriage is a happy one, despite many challenges throughout our 50 years together. When I chose massage for my career, right away, I loved it. Although I am shy and American culture was different than what I knew in Germany, I was able to build a practice and keep my business going well.”
Oskar said he has thoroughly enjoyed working with his clients and loves to hear the difference he makes in their lives.
“[I] am honored when they say how much my massage has done for them,” he said. “I love my quiet, peaceful studio beside my garden at our home, so I think I will continue my massage practice for the rest of my life.”
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