SEDALIA — Mackenzie Westphal knew just what to do when a friend challenged her to a contest to see who could generate more fans on Facebook. She never dreamed of how her efforts would turn out.
Mackenzie, a seventh-grader at Sacred Heart School, decided to honor a man for his kindness, big heart and smile, and thus created the Friends of Smitty the Wal-Mart Doorman page.
"He's pretty much the nicest greeter at Walmart," she said.
Mackenzie likes to hang out at Walmart with her friends, and decided she couldn't let Clyde "Smitty" Smith's acts of kindness go unknown.
Smith, 77, of Knob Noster, has been a door greeter at Walmart in Sedalia for 10 years. He learned about the page from some of his co-workers; he didn't have a clue what Facebook is or what all the fuss was about. But Smith was curious about who started the fan page, and he didn't know if Mackenzie was a boy or a girl, a youth or an adult.
"I wasn't expecting a lot of people to join — just like my friends ... which is like 40 people, so I wasn't expecting very much," Mackenzie said. "But I got on there ... and was like 'Oh my gosh!' "
She started the page in early January and within three weeks Smith's popularity grew to more than 1,000 fans. While she was amazed, Smith was blown away.
"I didn't realize I was making an impact," he said. "I was just doing my job. That's what I get paid to do."
Daily, people Smith knows and strangers he doesn't stop by and give him the latest fan tally.
Smith speaks with just about everyone as they enter and leave the store and has a good memory for names and faces.
"Do you know why I'm nice? Because a lot of people are hurting in this town. And I try to encourage them, like (the Facebook fans) encouraged me by saying all these nice comments," he said. "There are a lot of people out of work, getting divorced, so I try to make their day a little brighter. I didn't know it was taking effect, but it seems like it's working."
While Smith enjoys talking to all of his customers, he especially likes visiting with the teenagers.
"I ask them about their school and how they are doing in sports, if they are a cheerleader. I feel sorry for them. I think this is a rough generation for them to grow up in, between sex and drugs and all that stuff going on. It's tough to be a teenager," he said.
Teenagers make a special effort to find him and give him updates on what's happening in their lives.
Finding out Mackenzie is a 13-year-old girl made Smith's day. He was invited recently to come to Sedalia on his day off to meet her. He nearly missed the opportunity, because his car wouldn't start. However, he wanted to see the girl who has made him famous so much that he figured out a way to get to town.
He waited for her in the office of Sacred Heart School. Once Mackenzie introduced herself, he was all smiles.
"Whooo, hooo hooo! Congratulations! Thank you! I would never have known who you were. It was so nice of you to do that," he said.
Smith got to break the news to Mackenzie that the page passed 1,000 fans recently.
"Oh my gosh, that's awesome," Mackenzie squealed. As of recently, he had more than 1,600 fans.
The two sat together and talked like they had known each other for years. He told stories about his twin brother who lives in the Lake Tahoe area on the Nevada-California border, and she told him about her school activities. They also exchanged stories about what it was like to live in Minnesota and how disappointed they were that the Vikings lost the NFC Championship game to the New Orleans Saints.
Both had grins on their faces a mile long. He said over and over again how awesome she was.
"I can't believe it girl! I'm so proud of you," he said.
When Smith learned Mackenzie's mother, Melissa Westphal, was a teacher at Sacred Heart, he wanted to meet her, too. When he asked her about Mackenzie's project, she said: "I had no idea she did it. It's kind of neat, because people have gone on there and put really great things about it."
Before he left, Smith gave Mackenzie some words of wisdom: "Make your parents proud and you will be happy. You'll go a long ways in life. And two, do you know how basketball's like life? You only get one shot at it, and I want you to sink it. In other words, you've got to do it right the first time."