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Verlin H. Smalts

March 12, 2011|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • The most recent family photograph was taken at the July 24, 2010, wedding of Verlin and Kitty's granddaughter, Jennifer. Shown from left are Sharon Leasure, Christopher Leasure, Bill Leasure, Timothy Leasure, Jennifer and James Sherrill, David Smalts, and Kitty and Verlin Smalts.
Submitted photo

The proposal came through love letters in the mail, along with the ring. Verlin Smalts might have been separated from his high school sweetheart in distance, but didn't let that get in the way of planning for a future together.

While Verlin was in New Orleans for military training, Kathryn "Kitty" Rowe was living in Hagerstown and working in a dress shop.

"There was no official proposal down on one knee. There was such uncertainty in those days," Kitty said.

Verlin and Kitty, who was four years younger, were lifelong members of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Williamsport, and it was at church where they met when both were children.

They started dating as teenagers. After graduating from Hagerstown High School in 1933 and Susquehanna University in 1937, Verlin returned to Washington County to teach.

In 1941, he went into the service and was commissioned as a lieutenant after completing Officer Candidates School in Edgewood, Md. Kitty said Verlin volunteered for service, so he could serve during the summer with the least disruption to his teaching career, but then the war began.

Because of his science background, Verlin's service during World War II was stateside, mostly in California, as an instructor with the Army Air Corps in the tactical use of air chemical spray, smoke screens, and chemical and incendiary bombs.

Verlin and Kitty decided to get married so they could stay together. After a simple church wedding at Zion in 1942, they honeymooned in Winchester, Va., not traveling far because of gas rationing and with Verlin required to report back on Monday, Kitty said.

Shortly after their wedding, they moved to Fresno, Calif., one of several moves they made within that state.

After the war ended, son David Smalts said, his father was asked to stay in the Army Air Corps, with the rank of major, but Verlin was ready to settle down.

The couple returned to the Halfway area, living first on Roessner Avenue, then in a house they built on West Oak Ridge Drive in 1955. Kitty said it was in that home that they lived for the past 56 years.

Verlin returned to teaching and used summers to earn his master's degree from Columbia University. Kitty was a homemaker, honoring Verlin's wish that she not work outside the home.

Daughter Sharon Smalts Leasure was born in 1948, followed by David 13 years later. Both had their father as a Sunday school teacher, but neither had him as a classroom school teacher. Sharon, though, said she did have him as  a TV teacher, when he taught as part of the program in Washington County that used closed-circuit television for instruction starting in 1956.

"He had a great sense of humor. He loved to tell jokes. I don't think I've ever seen him yell or get mad. He was even-tempered," David said.

Sharon said she remembers friends coming over to study a difficult chemistry lesson. Her father jumped in and tutored the students until they understood the material.

"He was strict, but fair, and he cared. He would stay and help them after school. Some would come here. Chemistry is not easy for everyone," Kitty said.

She said she had always had a sense of his impact on students during his career as a science teacher, but since his death has been amazed at the outpouring of remembrances in his honor.

"He touched many lives," Kitty said.

Many know Verlin as a TV teacher, but also from his years teaching at Hagerstown High School, South Hagerstown High and at Springfield Middle School. He ended his career as the first full-time science supervisor for the county's public schools.

Verlin's years as a teacher and his community connections made it rare for him not to run into people he knew when he was in public, David said. Even when he was hospitalized, several of Verlin's nurses credited him with helping get them through nursing school because of the science foundation he gave them as a teacher.

"His students would come up to him and thank him. You know people. They appreciate a good teacher," Kitty said.

"I don't think he realized he was helping that much," said Sharon, who lives in Williamsport with her husband, Bill.

Verlin was 62 when he retired from teaching in 1975. He then worked for the Extension service, starting a program to control Johnson grass in the county. After several years, he found himself putting in far more hours than he had intended, and decided he'd had enough.

At that point, Verlin was still busy with church commitments. Over the years, he served as a money counter and as a church council, committee and choir member.

With more time to himself, Verlin liked the idea of going out for breakfast, but Kitty had her own routine. She suggested he invite a friend to take advantage of the "Buy One, Get One" coupons.

That grew into a regular Tuesday morning activity and became known as the Men's Fellowship Group at Zion, a group that has been active for at least 25 years and continues to this day. In addition to socializing over breakfast, the group has done service projects for their church and community.

Maurice Snyder, who lives at Homewood Retirement Center, said he'd known Verlin for about 85 years through church. They were active in Sunday school and Luther League as youths, then as members of the Men's Fellowship Group.

"You could call on him and he was ready to serve. He was humble in his helping. ... I'll miss a good, good friend," Maurice said.

"That's where his heart was. That was his love — his family and his church," Kitty said.

"And not just church, but God. He was a very devout man. He had a personal relationship with God. ... He prayed to be a good example to others, and he lived it out," Sharon said.

Other hobbies included home maintenance, antique cars, tending the garden, dancing, walking and travel. Verlin took Kitty and several family members on a cruise to celebrate her 90th birthday, at her request.

"He actually lived the American Dream. He enjoyed retirement," son-in-law Bill Leasure said.

"I was welcomed. He treated me like a son. I couldn't have married into a better family. I loved him dearly."

Verlin delivered Meals on Wheels, volunteered in nursing homes and was active in social and service organizations.

"He was very generous with his time and possessions. But when he was busy doing all that stuff, I never felt he was too busy for me," Sharon said.

Verlin dealt with the stress of the science supervisor's job by walking, something he continued until right before Christmas 2010. An EKG at that time indicated secondary pulmonary hypertension, so his family knew his heart wasn't pumping well and that there was pressure on his lungs from fluid, which made it hard for him to breathe.

Kitty said he died peacefully at home.

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Editor's note:  Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs "A Life Remembered." Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Verlin H. Smalts, who died Feb. 28, 2011, at the age of 96. His obituary was published in the March 2, 2011, edition of The Herald-Mail.

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