Family hopes memorial plaque reminds swimmers of Lake Michigan dangers

Ottawa County

PORT SHELDON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Reading a warning sign is one way to prevent a tragedy on the water.

Hearing from somebody who experienced one of those tragedies is another.

“That’s why we’re out there. That’s why we’re talking with you, and that’s why this sign is here,” James Schmidt said.

His son, Brandon James Schmidt, was 20 years old when he drowned in August 2018 off the beach at Port Sheldon Township Windsnest Park.

On Thursday, family and friends dedicated a plaque in Brandon Schmidt’s memory at the entrance to the beach. It was the latest in a series of efforts by the family to remind swimmers of the hidden dangers Lake Michigan holds.

“If we can bring some good out of our tragedy, that’s kind of a silver lining for us,” James Schmidt said.

That day back in 2018, the same year a record number of people drown in the Great Lakes, was supposed to be a day at the beach for the Brandon Schmidt. He was at the lake with friends.

The 20-year-old, who his father says was a good swimmer, was only about 20 feet out when he went under. No one is sure why it happened.

But instead of dwelling on the why, the family looked around the beach at Windsnest and found some things that were missing.

“We noticed that at that time there was no signage about the rip currents or the dangers of Lake Michigan,” James Schmidt said. “There (were) no life-saving flotation devices.”

Brandon Schmidt’s mother, Brandi Donley, turned grief into resolve, and then action.

In November of that same year, she went to the Port Sheldon Township Board and pleaded for warning signs and other safety equipment.

The township took action,” James Schmidt said. “So now, there is signage warning people about the rip currents. Warning people about the dangers in Lake Michigan. And there’s life-saving flotation devices.”

The family will probably never know how many people read the signs and heeded the warnings.  Or how may lives may have been saved. But they feel in their hearts they made an impact.

The plaque at the beach entrance, dedicated on the day before what would have been Brandon Schmidt’s 22nd birthday, is one more part of that effort.

“What we hope is that, perhaps through our tragedy, more harms can be prevented, and lives can be saved,” James Schmidt said.

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