Jeff Schmittinger, White House Chimney Sweep Wales Genesee Lions, Wisconsin Since 1993, Lion Jeff Schmittinger has served as the White House chimney sweep, visibly working on the roof at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in his black clothes and top hat. It’s a dirty job, but Schmittinger, a sweep for 37 years, does it for free as his gift to the country. Now at 65, he’s retiring. How did you get the job? I heard President Bill Clinton speak to Congress about the need for budget cuts and encouraging Americans to do their part. I got that job with a cold phone call. I’ve found you can come up with an idea, and if you’re willing to give it a try and accept failure if it comes your way, almost anything is possible. Can you tell me more about the work? This last was my tenth time. I bring a crew of nine guys from all over the country, different ones every year. We clean the 28 chimneys over about three days. How was the security check? It took about a year and a half. I bet they could tell you what size shoe I wear. Were you nervous on the first job? I always plan for the worst and hope for the best. I always have a fear that we’re going to look like clowns getting out of a car at the circus. But it’s gone well. Besides being the Executive Mansion, what’s different about it? It’s 68 feet from the damper to the top of the flue. That’s pretty substantial. Your average house is 14 feet. But it’s just a bigger house with a different set of rules. What administrations did you serve? Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump. In reality, it doesn’t matter if it’s a Republican or a Democrat living there. For us, being able to clean the White House chimneys is like being a musician who plays Carnegie Hall. It doesn’t get any better. But it’s also just dirt, and dirt is dirt no matter who generates it. Does your wife get to go along? Yes. Denise is a gopher. She lays down drop cloths and covers furniture. We’ve always had a gal on the crew. Have you met the occupants? President Bush met the crew. One man on the crew was a Vietnam vet, who lost his son in Iraq. The president was very nice to him. Have you had any other memorable experiences? One time we were on the roof, the Obamas were on vacation, and a 5.8 magnitude earthquake caused the building to shake. Everyone was sent to the lawn. Are you compensated in any way? We all pay our own way. But my wife and I were invited to see the White House Christmas decorations. One time my grandkids got to take part in the Easter Egg Roll. Oh, I’ve been handsomely compensated for what we do. Not all your rewards go to the bank. Why are you retiring? You get to the point where you recognize that physically the capability isn’t what it was in the past. When I walked off the White House grounds this last time I knew it was the last chimney I’d work on except for my own.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://digital.lionmagazine.org/article/One+Of+Us/2908955/445205/article.html.