John G. Smith

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John G. Smith

July 24, 2018

John Gerard Smith, 80, passed away on July 24, 2018 in the house he built on East Bay here in Traverse City.
He was husband and best friend to Nan, his wife of 56 years; loving father to Jennifer and her husband Walter; a very proud grandfather of 8-year-old twins, John-Michael and Abigail; a good neighbor and an honest man.
He is survived by his brother, Lawrence and wife, Florence; his three children, Lisa, Lee and Laura; his sister, Rosemarie and her two children, Karen and Warren; and his sisters-in-law, Colleen, Nora and her three sons, Jonathan, Matthew and Timothy; and Linda and her husband, Bruce and their two children, Erik and Lisa.
John was born in Astoria, Queens, New York, and grew up in Laurelton and Ronkonkoma, New York. He spent his early years bedeviling his parents with such activities as building jet engines in the driveway (and blowing a two-foot hole in said driveway), making a racer from his mother's tea cart and racing it down Dead Man's hill into oncoming traffic, convincing neighborhood kids that the paint tarp would make a great parachute if they would only jump off the garage roof holding tight to the rope attachments and taking apart and reconstructing anything mechanical.
He graduated to more useful applications of his interest in mechanics and problem solving by earning an associate's degree in diesel technology at LIATI in Farmingdale, New York, before moving on to Michigan to earn a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering at MSU. Once he saw Michigan, he never wanted to live anywhere else. While attending MSU he worked as a short order cook, a busboy, a bus driver, a pin setter at a bowling alley and spent six months working for the Michigan Department of Transportation building on two bridges on I-94.
After graduation, he took a job at the Ford Motor Company where he worked for 33 years. In 1987 he earned an Master of Business Administration from MSU. He was a loyal Ford man, expressing his gratitude each Thanksgiving to the Ford Motor Company for his livelihood and the life it enabled him to enjoy.
He had a lifelong passion for sailing, skiing, car restoration, community service, tinkering and especially problem solving. As a sailor he won a number of MORC and S2 7.9 meter regattas including a national championship. He spent summer vacations cruising the North Channel with family and friends. As an avid skier of over 50 years, he skied all over North America and Europe including several trips to Canada for helicopter skiing. In his retirement, he was a member of the informal ski club, Old Farts on Skis (OFOS), whose sole mission was to ski every slope in North America, for free, using their senior citizen passes.
In 2002 to 2003, John restored his 1934 Ford Phaeton, a four-door convertible with suicide doors and isinglass windows and entered it in a competition sponsored by The Early Ford V-8 Club of America (EFV-8) in 2003. He was awarded 998 points out of 1000 and won the highly sought after Dearborn Award. (This was the same car he and Nan initially drove on their honeymoon to Windsor in 1962.)
He volunteered as a guide with Optical Illusions, a ski program for the visually impaired, participated in Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, worked as a guide for a visually impaired athlete in the Special Olympics and was a jack of all trades with the Northern Michigan Adaptive Sports and Recreation organization for over 13 years. He nursed, coddled and tricked out his 1930s era Oliver 70 tractor, which he nicknamed "The Widow-maker" for 35 years using it for everything from portable crane to snow blower. Among his many inventions, he engineered and built an asymmetric trailer for his Seidelmann sailboat and a self-launching and docking marine railroad for his S2 sailboat.
He was a curious person by nature and maintained a sharp mind by regularly reviewing calculus and physics. He was also a guitar player, taught himself to type and play the piano, a great lover of karaoke, fine boxed wines and sitting by a fire. And you could always expect he would come up with an answer to any question you would pose while sitting under the stars looking for satellites on a summer's evening.
In keeping with his lifelong commitment to community service and the advancement of science, John had decided long ago to donate his body to Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. We were lucky to be able to follow his wishes in this choice. Because of the logistics involved, there was no funeral service.
A memorial get together is being held in Traverse City at Sleder's Family Tavern on Wednesday, Oct. 17, from 5 to 7 p.m. Light refreshments will be served. All are welcome. We expect people will have good stories about John and would be happy to hear how others experienced him.
For those wishing to make a donation, a charitable fund has been set up in his name with the Adaptive Sail program of Traverse Area Community Sailing. The purpose of this program is to provide support to all people, regardless of disability, who wish to enjoy the thrill of being on the water in a sail boat. You may make donations to "Adaptive Sailing Program of TACS." Additionally, please note in the memo area that this is a contribution for the John G. Smith/Thaddius Weatherby Ancient Mariner Fund and mail to: c/o Martha Belfour, Traverse Area Community Sailing (TACS), 13272 S. West Bay Drive, Suite B, Traverse City, MI 49684.
Published on October 9, 2018
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