Yesterday I was digging through my genealogy files and found something I had forgotten about – a letter my mom had written to my dad’s high school graduating class in celebration of their 50th reunion. My dad, Charles M. Smith, graduated in 1944 from McCool Juction (Nebraska) High School at the tender age of 16. He passed away on September 13, 1969 at 42 years of age. I just love this letter because it gives lots of details about Mom and Dad’s life together. It also answers my questions about Dad’s military service.
June 4, 1995
Dear McCool Junction High School Class of 1944,
In response to Imogene’s request for a short synopsis of your classmate Charles Smith’s life and times after high school, I’m sending this with my best wishes to all of you for a great weekend of reminiscing and remembering – a fifty year anniversary is a milestone. Enjoy!
Most of you probably know that after high school Charles stayed on the family farm until some of his brothers returned from military service. In April of 1946 he joined the U.S. Army serving in the 82nd Airborne Paratroop Division; most of his service time was spent in the southern states and he dearly loved parachuting and flying the rest of his life. Shortly after his discharge in the Fall of 1947 he went to Omaha, working as a dispatcher for Rock Island Motor Freight while attending Commercial Extension School of Commerce.
Omaha and CESC is where we met. There we all knew him as “Chuck”, and it seemed to stick with him from that time on. Apparently the chemistry and the time were right and we were married in February 1949. Shortly before our wedding he had been transferred to Ottumwa, IA, so our first home was an apartment there. I also obtained employment, with the Morrell Meat Packing Co. in that fair city. Before the end of the year, R.I. transferred Chuck back to Omaha, which really didn’t break our hearts in the least. In late February 1950 our first child, Cynthia Ellen (Cindy), was born and I became a full time wife and mother.
During the next few years Chuck worked as Purchasing Agent for the Ford Motor Co., and for the Insurance Department of the Provident Loan Company, while attending night classes at Creighton University; we also live in two other apartments before we moved into our first home in one of the many subdivisions of the fifties; our family was also expanding, Deborah Margaret (Debbie) in 1951, Jennifer Ruth in 1953 and Rebecca Mae (Becky) in 1955. However, the company was also expanding and in 1958 Chuck was transferred to Cedar Rapids, IA as Assistant Manager of the new branch office opening there.
Cedar Rapids was a pretty little city and we really enjoyed our years there. After renting for a year or so, we moved into our second home. The girls continued to grow, and we added two my daughters, a cat, a dog, a parakeet, and a pet rabbit to the family; daughters #5 and #6 being Victoria Marie (Vicki) and Penelope Anne (Penny). We also became more involved in school activities, summer programs, church and community affairs. We spent much time exploring the many parks, lakes and historical points of interest in eastern and northeastern Iowa; most summer Sundays we loaded a picnic basket and headed wherever our whimsy led us.
However change was on the horizon again; in the summer of 1963 we came back to McCool for a year, here Chuck served the surrounding area as sales representative for the Butler Building Franchise based in Lincoln. Here too, daughter #7, Marcella Jane (Marcie) arrived.
By late summer of 1964 Chuck was transferred into the Lincoln office, where he continued in sales, the market leaning much more toward commercial buildings by this time. One last move, this time to South 47th Street in Lincoln, where in November our first and only SON arrived!! Honest! It really was a boy. What a shock – I could hardly believe it; his older sisters were a bit skeptical too. But it was a real honest to goodness boy whom we named David Charles.
Chuck was a born salesman…he thrived on it. He had a real talent for public relations, he loved people and could get along with anyone and everyone; they also knew he was dependable, honest and trustworthy. Business was good and the best was yet to come. The children were growing up fast; we had been through the Campfire Girl/Bluebird years in Iowa, now we started the Girl Scout/Brownie years. The older girls were in high school now so we had more band concerts, ball games, proms, etc. We had kids in three different schools at once – Oh the joy of juggling parent-teacher conferences, the school programs and the activities, the extra-curricular activities, job schedules, etc. About this time young men also began appearing on our doorstep; the older girls assumed after school jobs and before we knew it they were graduating from High School.
Charles was diagnosed with Leukemia early in February of 1969. During the ensuing months there were many hospital stays, frequent days in bed at home for “R & R”, and many transfusions, tests and medical procedures. However between times there were also a couple of combined “business-pleasure” trips for the two of us as well as frequent family holidays and outings. Chuck fought a brave and gallant battle, but on September 13, 1969 he departed this life; he is buried at St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Fairmont, Nebraska.
Imogene wrote “Charles was always spreading sunshine as he went through high school with us”; to me that is an excellent description of Chuck. He seldom lost his temper, was angry or depressed. He was a cheerful, happy, fun-loving person who loved people, life, his work, his family, his faith and his country. He was a real easy-goin’ fellow; a good husband, father, son, brother and friend.
He did live to see his two oldest daughters marry and to make the acquaintance of his first grandchild. He would be proud of the adults into which his children developed and also of his grandchildren and the great-grands; one of my greatest desires has been that his grandchildren could have known him. It is rather ironic to note that Chuck’s son as well as his oldest grandson are both salesmen. Is there a possibility that another of the third generation (Dave’s son), might also follow in his Dad’s and Grandad’s footsteps? Only time will tell.[i]
[i] Betty Smith Schwartman (Lincoln, Nebraska) to McCool Juction High School Class of 1944, letter, 4 June 1995; copy privately held by Marcella Smith Garnett, Omaha, Nebraska, 2013.