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Columbia Missourian

W.B. Smith Jr., 89, was an athlete, scholar, businessman

By Travis Hartman
August 13, 2013 | 9:05 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Football player, pilot, professor, philanthropist, entrepreneur. W.B. Smith Jr. died Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013. He was 89.

“We were raised with the idea that you can do anything or be anyone you want in life, just get your education and learn,” said Mr. Smith's daughter Sandy McCann. Mr. Smith not only taught this philosophy to his children but also practiced it through his entire life.

He was born in Kansas City on Dec. 10, 1923, to William B. and Mabel (Dothage) Smith. When Mr. Smith was 2, his family moved to Columbia, where they have had roots in Boone County stretching back seven generations. After graduating from University High, he began studying agriculture at MU.

In addition to his studies, Mr. Smith played on the defensive line for the Missouri Tigers football team until he was sidelined with a shoulder injury.

“They put a metal plate in his shoulder,” McCann said. “He never set off the metal detectors at the airport, but we always laughed that he would.”

Mr. Smith remained a lifelong Tigers football fan, incorporating their bowl games into family vacations, which were also opportunities to teach his kids about the American landscape they traveled through.

“One year, we were going to see the Tigers at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. He studied up on the Civil War, and we made probably 20 stops along the way and took us through all the battles,” McCann said. “I remember in Vicksburg, Miss., he had us out in the fields, showing us where the different armies were. The effort that he put into knowing that, to teach us, was just phenomenal."

It was also during college that he met his wife, Irene VanOtteran, from Grand Rapids, Mich. They found each other at a dance at Stephens College, where she was a student.

“He just fell head over heels for her,” McCann said. “Mom was, oh jeez, always someone you wanted to be around. She really just brought out the best in you.”

In the midst of his studies, Mr. Smith joined the Navy in 1943 to help with the war effort. He trained to be a pilot.

“He knew nothing about planes but went to flight school, and he loved it,” McCann said.

Mr. Smith patrolled the skies over the Great Lakes and the Canadian border in a prop plane during the latter stages of World War II.

When the war ended, he returned to Columbia and worked at the family business, Smith Hatchery, and continued his studies at MU.

Mr. Smith and VanOtteran were married in 1949. He began teaching agriculture at community colleges in Fayette and Fulton. In 1957, Mr. Smith opened the Smith Feed Mill, eventually computerizing the entire operation.

“They probably spent over a year working with programmers and engineers, developing it so when you pushed buttons, it controlled all the elevators that the grain was in,” McCann said. “It was back when things weren’t really computerized. It was big and clunky, but Dad was so proud.”

The Smith Feed Mill eventually merged with the Smith Hatchery, which grew to raise chickens, turkeys, hogs and cattle over the years. In 1958, he joined the Cosmo Luncheon Club and during his tenure there helped organize the club’s July Fourth barbecue, pancake days and weekly bingo.

He also played in a Tuesday night poker game for more than 40 years. McCann remembers the rotating game would occasionally land at their house while she was in high school.

“We would get food ready and stuff like that, and we weren’t supposed to go in there after they started. But we’d peek in anyhow.”

“Bill was really a very good-hearted person, and he was a good man, lots of fun to play cards with and sit and visit and talk about family and friends,” said Don Fritz, who has been playing in the game for 15 years.

Mr. Smith is survived by his children: Sandy McCann of Columbia; Peggy and David Hodges of Gulf Breeze, Fla.; Marty and Mary Smith of Columbia; Judy Dwyer of Columbia; and Greg and Maree Smith of Dallas; his grandchildren: Lori and Jesse Willis of Wellsburg, Iowa; Bryan and Tracy Hodges of Gulf Breeze; Nicole Dwyer of Kansas City; Brett Dwyer and Tyler Smith of Columbia; and Sommer Smith and April Smith of Dallas; and great-grandchildren: Kylie, Wesley and Carlie Willis of Wellsburg, and Brayden Hodges of Gulf Breeze.

His wife, Irene VanOtteran, and his sisters, Helen Jacobs Stone and Dorothy Bea, died earlier.

Supervising editor is Zachary Matson.