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Pastor Henry C. Smith dies

Published 5:43pm Thursday, November 1, 2012


Rev. Henry Clay Smith, D.D., pastor of Second Baptist Church for 32 1/2 years, from June 1972 to December 2004, died Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, of lymphoma at the James E. Cartwright Care Center, a hospice in Saginaw.

Rev. Dr. Henry C. Smith guided Dowagiac's Second Baptist Church for more than 32 years, 1972-2004

He was ordained in 1964 and would have turned 83 Nov. 26.

There will be a family hour at 10 a.m. Nov. 9 at Corinthian Baptist Church, 104 S. 10th St., with his funeral starting at 11. Pastor Roy L. Manning will officiate, with interment in Eastlawn Memorial Gardens.

Friends may call at Evans and Browne’s Funeral Home, 441 N. Jefferson Ave., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2-8 p.m.

The Rev. Smith was a former Dowagiac Board of Education member. His widow, Dr. Jean O. Smith, was president of the school board. Each guided the local NAACP branch.

He had a remarkable tenure in a job he didn’t want in the first place.
When the Rev. Smith preached education or high moral standards to young people, it was the voice of experience coming from someone who learned from his own mistakes.
He dropped out of school after eighth grade, rebelled against his religious upbringing by becoming a “playboy” and even went AWOL when the Army sent him to Korea, but he ended Second Baptist’s reputation for frequent leadership turnover.
Before the Rev. Smith delivered his tryout sermon April 18, 1972, “They told me not to get my hopes too high,” he recalled during a Daily News interview for his silver anniversary in 1997.
Especially during frequent travels around the country, when he saw friends in cities such as Detroit and Chicago packing pistols in their briefcases and “ringing the bell between the bars” to enter their offices.
He became “spoiled” walking to work from his nearby home on Tuthill Street or riding the Blue Demon, an old bike he got from Southwestern Michigan College Museum Director Stan Hamper.
Rev. Smith often demonstrated an ability to land on his feet.
When he was partying before shipping out for Korea and found himself away without leave, the military sent him to a veritable paradise in Honolulu.
Married to Kate in 1949, he was one of only two men in his 27-man squadron who returned home to wives instead of “Dear John” letters.
Her death only 14 months after moving to Dowagiac was devastating, not only because it left him alone in new surroundings to raise an 11-year-old daughter, Deidreia, a 1979 Union High School graduate, but Kate died on their 25th wedding anniversary, Feb. 2, 1974, of a massive heart attack hours before a surprise party she had planned.
They say the Lord works in mysterious ways. Rev. Smith knew that better than most. He sincerely said that loss left him with “nothing but precious memories” of the first woman he loved and with the rich life he made since starting over.
In Saginaw, his siblings lived in sight of each other’s houses on the same street.
Rev. Smith eventually embraced the town that comforted him and came to enjoy Dowagiac enough to resist opportunities offered elsewhere.
When Kate died, “Dowagiac supported me — the community, not just the congregation — and was very responsive. That made this community so important to me. They rallied around me,” particularly clergy such as William O’Leary and John Ristow, who treated him “like a son. I shall never forget those two men.”

When Rev. Smith departed, he was roasted so reverently at Southwestern Michigan College’s Mathews Conference Center East, the Daily News said he “escaped unsinged — though not unsung” because City Clerk James Snow, one of the toastmasters, serenaded the fellow Rotarian he called “Smitty.”

Vocalists Bonita Mitchell, a duet of Pauline Murray and Lula Holtz, Charlotte Dillard and Mildred Bailey also literally sang the pastor’s praises.
Mayor Donald Lyons called it a “very bittersweet moment for me. I’ve had the great pleasure of knowing Henry for very close to 30 years. We served together on Dowagiac school board, where I gained a great deal of respect for him. The service he performed for the youth of this community, there’s nothing we can say or do that’s going to pay that back. It’s simply too great a debt. But we can say ‘thank-you’ from the bottom of our hearts.”
Minnie Macon Warren, now chairwoman of the Cass County Board of Commissioners, returned home to Dowagiac in 1987.

“We were having a lot of problems. It was drug-infested, and there were drive-by shootings,” so she worked with the Smiths “to take (Walter Ward Park) back” with a series of Labor Day Black Family Celebrations.


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