Sonia Angell Schmitt named 2019 Leader of Distinction

Each year YWCA Walla Walla recognizes someone who exemplifies the YWCA mission, serves our community, and inspires others to do the same.

In the YWCA Centennial book, Inspired: the Women in Our Lives, her son and daughter-in-law, Carl and Ann Schmitt, described Sonia Angell Schmitt as a “Fairy Godmother,” someone who “stood by her friends and family, and who made the “world better and life richer and fuller.”

It was perhaps inevitable that she would have such a lasting impact on the people and places around her. She grew up one of three daughters of a truly remarkable woman who, as a single parent, returned to school to pursue a degree in social work. She watched as her mother became Walla Walla’s first child welfare worker…a tireless champion for children, who was committed to giving young people the attention, care and information they needed. This was a woman who instilled in Sonia a sense that anything was possible.

A story of how Sonia developed her commitment to nurturing growth in her community involves her going outside one morning with her mother, two Hills Brothers Coffee cans in hand, each containing a sycamore sapling. They planted those small trees in the corner of their yard. Over the years those saplings grew to magnificence, and today they stand watch over the neighborhood.

Sonia Schmitt

After graduating from Whitman College, she moved to California with her husband, where they raised their two children, and enjoyed exploring the California Coast. There, she was a supporter of the YWCA in Palo Alto.

When the couple returned to Walla Walla to retire in 1996, they thought they would slow down, but that just was never going to happen given Sonia’s passion and drive. Our community came to know her as a lifelong supporter and volunteer for Planned Parenthood, and you’ve seen her name in your Walla Walla Symphony program or when attending the Walla Walla Chamber Music Festival.

She was also one of the founders of the Blue Mountain Land Trust, which helps preserve thousands of acres of land in Washington and Oregon for the enjoyment of everyone.

Sonia’s daughter-in-law, Ann, accepted the award on her behalf.

She even got into the business of historic preservation when she and her husband rescued the Whitehouse-Crawford, a magnificent historic building, from destruction.

She was a generous donor to YWCA Walla Walla programs and in 2017 she helped underwrite our Centennial book. In that book, her son and daughter-in-law also wrote the truest words when they said, “She wants the best for all and does what she can to make it happen.”

Sadly, on January 23, 2018, the Walla Walla community lost a dear friend in Sonia Angell Schmitt, but just as the saplings she planted with her mother have grown into majestic sycamores, her legacy will grow and continue to enrich the organizations and people she championed.