'Smitty's life revolved around his love of nature

March 26, 2006|By MARLO BARNHART

When she was about 7 or 8 years old, Anne Smith came to Hagerstown with her father and sat on a curb watching the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus unload at the railroad yards.

"We stayed all day," she recalled. "We even brought our lunch in a bag."

That experience and so many others are now what Anne has of her father, H. Gerald Smith, who died March 17 at the age of 97. His love of fun, family and nature is an enduring legacy for her and many others who knew "Smitty" well.

As the familiar strains of "Going Home" were played at her father's March 21 memorial service, Anne said she could almost picture him reuniting with his wife, Moynelle, in a heavenly garden setting.

"Nature was so important to him," Anne said. "When people think of my dad, I want them to think of flowers and nature."


That garden theme also courses through the memories of both of his grandchildren, who spent time at Gerald's 90-acre estate outside of Hancock, where he grew and developed rare trees and shrubs.

A number of relatives who were unable to attend the service or who had other commitments did e-mail their thoughts and feelings about Gerald - a man most said they will greatly miss.

"My favorite memories of my grandfather all seem to revolve around his love of the outdoors," said granddaughter Elizabeth Anne Newborg Klopp from her California home. "On any given summer's evening after a long day of working outside, he could be found sitting on the front porch at Swann's Wood watching for deer on the edge of the woods."

And on winter mornings after a big snow, he would be just outside the kitchen window refilling a giant bird feeder so the rest of the family could watch cardinals and blue jays forage from the warmth inside, Elizabeth said.

Gerald's only grandson, Christopher Newborg, said that his best memories also are centered around the homeplace in Hancock.

"When I was little, I used to ride on his lap and steer the tractor as he mowed the field," Christopher said from his home in New Jersey

As he grew older, he got a BB gun from his grandfather, which he used to line empty soda cans on a tree and knock them all down, Christopher said.

"As I grew into my teenage years, he showed the patience only a grandparent can when I shot up all the windows on his shed with that same BB gun," Christopher said. "I will always remember him as a kind, caring and generous man."

Sense of humor

Even in his later years when living at Homewood at Williamsport, Gerald kept his sense of humor and enjoyed family closeness, according to Jessica Tapley, 15, who shared her fond memories of her Great-Great-Uncle Smitty.

"He would joke around with us ... pretending to take our noses and we would have to try and get it back from him," she said.

Anne said she and her parents lived in an apartment above a store in Hancock until she nearly was finished with high school. When the move was made to Swann's Wood in 1958, Anne was disappointed that she no longer could walk to school, but she soon learned to enjoy country living.

"I respected that it was my parents' dream," Anne said.

Gerald worked 35 years for the Maryland roads department and saved his money so he could buy the farm and indulge his love of gardening.

And he was good at it, Anne said.

"He once supplied the U.S. Air Force Academy with 10,000 vinca minor myrtle plants," she said. "That got me through my sophomore year in college."

Harold Baker, a nephew who now teaches at James Madison University, described his Uncle Smitty as the "quintessential American self-made man who despite his humble beginnings, at age 50 he was able to purchase a large tree farm called Swann's Wood."

Rang the church bells

An orphan at 10 after both of his parents died in the 1918 influenza epidemic, Gerald was raised by various family members.

"My mom and dad went to high school together ... her family kind of adopted him," Anne said.

A niece, Suzanne Fost, said she remembers how Uncle Smitty rang the bells at St. Thomas' Episcopal Church for many years.

"I wonder who will ring them tomorrow," she said.

Edward Fost's memories from his Catonsville, Md., home reflected on many times spent cutting trees and getting advice from his Uncle Smitty.

"I will miss Aunt Moynelle and Uncle Smitty and wish they were still here," he said.

Niece Moynelle Fost Stewart, who goes by Nell, said Uncle Smitty could be very stern, and yet funny when she was a youngster visiting.

"He could keep us giggling for hours," Nell said.

Sliding around on a rug to polish the floor, playing tug of war with Uncle Smitty's beloved Dalmatian, Princess Pat, and eating toasted tomato and onion sandwiches are memories claimed by nephew Rob Powers, who expressed his thoughts in a poem about the man.

"They were good times ... thanks, Uncle Smitty."

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