Today one look at an old newspaper article brought back so many memories of times at Ney Junior High when Olan Smith served as principal. As a new teacher there in 1973, it took awhile to catch on to his dry wit and solemn face, followed quickly by the smallest of smiles...a "gotcha" smile. Very well liked by faculty and students, he had the respect of all, and most of the time, his big hand on a shoulder could quiet the most boisterous of students.
At the time, maybe because I was not from the area, I didn't realize what a full and multi-faceted life he had led up until the time he came to Ney Junior High in 1958. Olan graduated from Sherwood High School in 1940 where he was an outstanding baseball and basketball player.
He was a also a star basketball player at Defiance College. His career was interrupted, however, when DC suspended athletics in 1943, while many of their male students were drafted or volunteered for the military. Olan was one of them, serving in Europe two years with the 45th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army, earning a bronze star.
After the military, he came back to Defiance and gave Defiance College an outstanding basketball season during 1945-1946. For two years running, they were the highest scoring college in the state and Olan one of the highest scorers.
He loved sports and played baseball for many years at all levels of the game.
On July 6, 1946, the Defiance Crescent News reported this:
"OLAN SMITH SIGNS WITH THE BROWNIES
Olan Smith of Sherwood today had signed a contract with the St. Louis Browns and is expecting to join the Browns farm club, Springfield, Illinois, in the Three Eye League soon.
Smith graduated from Defiance College this spring after starring in basketball on resuming a war-interrupted cage career.
He has been playing first base with the Fort Wayne City Lights this summer and had the impossible batting average of .498 when the Browns got his name on the dotted line."
What a life he had before settling down and earning his Masters Degree at Indiana University and taking the job as principal! He was gone all too soon - in October, 1974 - and he was sorely missed.
**AN UPDATE - September 4, 2018
Thanks to Deb C. who contributed this article written by School Superintendent at the time, D. E. Jones. It appeared in the Fairview High School school newspaper, The War Whoop a few weeks after Mr. Smith's death in 1974.
"MR OLAN SMITH
'Smitty was a great person.' Those were the words that John Broden, former Fort Wayne baseball manager and coach, used to describe Olan Smith. Olan had played baseball in Fort Wayneunder the watchful eye of Mr. Broden in the late 40s and 50s.
Mr. Broden's five word summary of Olan's life has been repeated many, many times in the past two weeks. Olan was more than a teacher, coach, or school principal; he was a special type of person.
Olan was special in that he enjoyed making other people laugh. His dry humor was always evident, whether it was in the classroom, on the athletic field, at the toastmaster's table or in conversation with friends.
Olan was special in that he had ore than just a flickering interest in young people. He had a strong sense of dedication to the students who went through the Ney Junior High School. He knew the students, took an interest in their lives, and was always more than willing to give of his time, energy, and knowledge to bring about successful solutions to their problems.
Each student was something special to Olan. He had a memory for specific events that took place in the lives of those students and teachers who were under his direction. Without hesitation, he could relate humorous events that had taken place in the lives of students back to 1947 when he launched his teaching and coaching career at the Edon High School.
Olan was special in that he maintained a positive approach to life. He was an optimist in every sense of the word. The tendency for most of us in the day and age in which we are living is to be pessimistic, cynical, and critical of everyone and everything. Olan could always see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. He seemed to have the unusual ability of giving reassurance and security to those whose lives were in disarray.
We hear considerable comment that no longer do people take pride in their work and their accomplishments. Here again, Olan was a special type of person. He was enthusiastic toward his job and he took great pride in the accomplishment of the teachers who taught under his supervision and the students who learned under his direction. 'Smitty' was a proud person, but humility was the cornerstone of this life.
Olan will no longer drive his green truck into the FV drive, enter the office and say, 'I want all of you to know I have my specialist's degree. Mr. Superintendent, do you have yours?' No longer will he give the orders on the parking lot at the football games; no longer will he stand at the end of the gymnasium during the basketball games and give his weekly reminder to the superintendent that he was the first to be elected to the Defiance College Hall of Fame.
Yes, Smitty was a great person. His life will long be an inspiration to the people who had the blessing of knowing him and working with him. The greatest tribute we can pay to Olan Smith is to permit his humor, optimism, and humility to penetrate each of our lives.
In the weeks, months, and years that lie ahead, the name of Olan Smith will not fade into oblivion. As time passes by, we will see that Olan Smith was a great teacher, an outstanding school administrator, and above all, a good Christian man. D.E. Jones"