Meet Your Neighbor: Jhan Schmitz

By George Stephens
Information Advisory Committe (IAC) Member

By all accounts, Jhan has had an interesting and extensive career as an engineer and project manager – recently as the Program Director for the Panama Canal expansion.

During his career, Jhan typically managed multi-billion dollar projects, including being the program director for the $6.4 billion capacity enhancement program for Philadelphia International Airport, the $20 billion new Hong Kong International Airport, and a $25 billion commuter rail project which connects Heathrow Airport with the Canary Wharf financial district through central London. His first job was as a Weapons Engineer with Honeywell in their Defense Systems Division. He mentions that he learned how to blow up airport runways before learning how to build them!

Jhan Schmitz and his wife Connie Brennan

His work has taken him to 34 different countries, and his wife Connie Brennan has accompanied him to many of those countries. (Talk about earning frequent flyer miles!)

Jhan is very proud of the many projects he has been involved with over his career, but the building of the Panama Canal expansion is fondly remembered.

For those of us who have not traveled the Panama Canal in a cruise ship, some interesting facts are noteworthy. King Charles V of Spain is credited for first suggesting a canal through the Isthmus 500 years ago. But it wasn’t until the French attempted the first excavation that the challenges of building were first experienced. They failed for many reasons, not the least because of  Malaria, Yellow Fever and other tropical diseases. Building of the canal was taken over by the United States under President Teddy Roosevelt’s administration in the early part of the 20th century and completed several years later in 1914. Giants of the project were engineers John Stevens and George Goethals -- and especially Dr. William Gorgas who led the effort to eradicate tropical diseases in Panama. The canal orientation is north (Atlantic) to south (Pacific), not east to west, due to the curvature of the Isthmus, which can be a bit disorienting. The Panama Canal has been ranked as one of the seven wonders of the modern world by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Total cost in today’s dollars, including both French and US efforts, was about $14 billion. The latest expansion cost was $5.25 billion.

Jhan’s ability to manage large projects was instrumental in the successful completion of the new third set of locks, which double the capacity of the Panama Canal to handle larger container ships. Millions of cubic yards were excavated for the new locks and more concrete was placed for the expansion than for the original canal. The expansion project began in 2007 and opened to ship traffic in 2016.

Jhan was born in Santa Monica and his family were “reverse migrants” after WWII. Once the war ended, war production industries scaled back, and his aeronautical engineer father moved the family to Minnesota to find a job - at the same time large numbers of Midwest folks were picking up and moving to Southern California. Jhan grew up in Minneapolis, and attended the University of Minnesota and then law school at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul. He re-connected with his California roots early, with train trips during summer school breaks to visit his grandparents in the LA area, starting when he was 8 years old. (That’s the longest traveled summer camp I’ve ever heard reported.)

He met Connie on a blind date in Boise in 1984, and they’ve since lived/worked in many places around the world: Hong Kong (for 8 years), London (twice), Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Cairo, Dubai, Mumbai, Panama (twice), and Sydney. And almost in some of the real top spots around the globe - like Turkmenistan.

An interesting aspect of his work history that his friends would find out of character is that he was once accused of insubordination and almost fired by his boss on a project in Saudi Arabia because he wouldn’t alter his opinion on how a job should be done. Doesn’t seem like that held him back in any way for future employment.

He says: “Picking Shadow Hills was a happy accident.” Jhan and Connie came from Boise on a visit in 2004, just happened to stop by the SCSH model homes on the way back to the airport, and entered Pulte’s lottery for homes being built here in Phase 1. They “won” the lottery and bought the house  as an investment, not intending to live here. The accident, so to speak, was that Connie inadvertently sold the house in Boise while Jhan was in Iraq, with no other place to go other than SCSH. So they’ve made Indio their nest and have enjoyed life here ever since.

Residents are encouraged to suggest candidates for the Sun City Shadow Hills website’s Human Interest stories. The Information Advisory Committee is inclusive for all residents in Shadow Hills. You may make your suggestions directly to