Traverse City Business Hall Of Fame
The annual Business Hall of Fame enshrines the most influential and notable leaders who have helped build Traverse City throughout the decades. Now in its third year, we induct its two newest members: James Munson – who was innovative in his treatment of psychiatry as the leader of Traverse City’s State Hospital and gave northern Michigan its first hospital, and Art Schmuckal, whose business was gas stations and convenience stores but whose philanthropy touched all parts of the community.
James Decker Munson was the first administrator of the Northern Michigan Asylum, which turned into the Traverse City Regional Psychiatric Hospital, a.k.a., the State Hospital.
He was born in 1848 in Oakland County and grew up on a farm, which probably accounts for his interest in agriculture and the role agriculture played at the asylum. The hospital’s farm and dairy herd had a national reputation, but he also hired kids who had grown up on farms and turned them into nurses and attendants.
The hospital, under his leadership, was regarded as one of the best-run mental institutions in the country.
Munson went to high school in Pontiac and got his M.D. from the University of Michigan. He started practicing in Detroit and quickly became fascinated with neurology, which led to an interest in psychiatry. He was named the assistant medical director at the Eastern Michigan Asylum in Pontiac in 1878 and moved to Traverse City to take over the new asylum in 1885. At the time, the land was rough and filled with stumps, so Munson called on his horticulture background and began a beautification plan that involved planting hundreds of trees, many of which still survive.
His theories of psychiatry were revolutionary for the times; he did away with straitjackets, used drug therapy and had patients working the farm and growing the food the hospital needed. He also integrated social services with patient care. He believed in treating the patients and not just “warehousing” them.
In 1915, Munson donated a boarding house for use as a community hospital. It was northern Michigan’s first hospital and had 21 beds.
His personal physician, Edward Sladek, had this to say about Dr. Munson: “Dr. Munson was singularly gracious of manner, winning the confidence of patients entrusted to him and always possessed of an understanding of their needs. He never lost sight of the beneficial value of the personal relationship.”
Munson retired in 1924 when he was 76 years old. He died in June 1929.
If you’ve bought gas, snacks or drinks at a Shell station around Traverse City, it’s thanks to Art Schmuckal.
Schmuckal co-founded Slane and Schmucakl Oil Co., a Shell Oil Co. distributor, with George Slane in 1955. There were two filling stations and Slane and Schmuckal took turns making deliveries. When Slane left Michigan in 1980, the company was renamed Schmuckal Oil Co.
There are now 26 gas stations and convenience stores; 23 Shell and three Marathon. Art’s son Paul is CEO of Schmuckal Oil; at one point the company employed three generations of Schmuckals. Art Schmuckal retired in 1997 at the age of 77.
Schmuckal was born on the family farm in Hannah and was in the first graduating class at St. Mary’s Hannah School in Kingsley. Before founding the oil company, he worked the family’s 125-acre farm, raising potatoes and livestock, as well as helping at livestock sales barns. For nine years, he sold milking machines in 10 northern Michigan counties.
His community ties are plentiful. He and wife Mary were among the original parishioners at St. Patrick Catholic Church. He was a life member of the Traverse City Golf and Country Club, the Elks Lodge and the Optimist Club. He was on the county road commission for 24 years, was a Blair Township supervisor, on the board of the Northwestern Michigan Fair and the Chamber of Commerce and held many professional and club offices. In 1987, he received the Distinguished Service Award from the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce.
“He was a great man who knew how to balance things out and still have a great time,” said Paul Schmuckal. “He loved Traverse City. He loved Grand Traverse County. He lived and breathed Grand Traverse County and Michigan.”
Northwestern Michigan College’s University Center is named after Art and Mary Schmuckal, thanks to their work with the college as well as their philanthropy. In 1999, he and his wife formed the Art and Mary Schmuckal Family Foundation, which continues to support local nonprofits with grants of nearly $250,000 each year. Schmuckal also helped with building campaigns for the Grand Traverse Area Catholic Schools and Munson Medical Center.
Art Schmuckal died in November 2012.