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The Life of Merle T Smith

Updated on January 8, 2013

Merle Thomas Smith ~ 2/10/23 – 7/30/90

The Life of Merle T. Smith

by Wilma Janice Bell Smith

edited by Mendell Smith in 2007

Merle Thomas Smith was born in Neodesha, Kansas, February 10, 1923. He was the second son of two Nazarene pastors, the Revs. Harry Wait and Daisy Smith, who pastored in Kansas and Oklahoma.

Merle was a typical child, usually well mannered and polite, yet human enough to enjoy a bit of mischief, as do most youngsters. In school, he excelled in math and debating, and once won a statewide debating tournament in Oklahoma. Although Merle attended grade school in Kansas, he graduated from Bethany (Oklahoma) High School. His parents took pastorates wherever they were called and both were ministers for over one-half a century.

After a stint in the Marine Corps, where he enlisted shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, he spent a brief time in Southern California, then worked for Boeing Aircraft near Seattle, Washington, and later in Wichita, Kansas. He liked to try his hand at various jobs and also to boast he was never fired from any. Thus, he was proficient at many trades which he said in later life, "When you own a home, you'd better know how to do a few fix-up jobs."

Bowling was always his hobby and for a while he managed a bowling alley in Wichita, but in 1947 he decided to find a new field to conquer, thus he took a job with Sanborn Map Company, a nationwide company where he learned to inspect both commercial and residential buildings and prepare maps for use in the fire insurance industry as well as for government buildings. Many companies utilized these maps to help select good sites for various businesses. The work was fascinating and Merle's boss once said, "If I had only six men in the nation as good as Merle Smith, we'd have a superior work force." The job involved much traveling, but one of his longest assignments was Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he met Wilma Janice Bell at a Valentine's Day Party, February 14, 1948. They married April 30, 1948. Their marriage obviously was made in heaven-they remained a devoted couple until his death on July 30, 1990 on the island of Kauai in Hawaii-42 wonderful years together.

Merle overcame many obstacles as traveling often became a problem, especially if one were ill, also he frequently was given a crew to train, then was called to Chicago to be trained for the job of Midwest Manager. Yet the traveling was fun and Janice had resigned her job as an executive secretary so that she could travel with him, not just in Kansas and Oklahoma, but stretching from New York to California. She never regretted her decision as she could assist Merle at his job and they felt it was almost like a paid vacation. They went places and saw things they had only read about in school. However, the winter weather seemed unbearably cold, so Merle asked for a transfer to the West Coast. When a vacancy occurred, they packed up and drove to Southern California, arriving before their house trailer arrived. They enjoyed this time getting acquainted with the area and enjoying the company of his older brother Mendell and his family in Canoga Park.

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While working in Detroit, as a lark, Merle entered a bowling tournament—the Detroit Royale and had almost forgotten about it, but soon a nice check arrived. Merle had won first place in this prestigious tournament! He garnered many trophies and truly enjoyed the competition of tournament and league bowling.

Both bowling and travel gave the Smiths an excellent opportunity to visit churches of several faiths. Janice was a member of Disciples of Christ Church and Merle remained a Nazarene, but they both compromised and attended both, plus often visiting other churches with new friends. Later they both became members of the Montrose (California) Church of the Nazarene where Merle’s sister Marie and her husband, the Rev. Norvie Clift were pastors.

About 1969, after they purchased a home in Diamond Bar, California, where she lived the rest of her life, word came that his firm, having been in business for 110 yeas, was suddenly was going out of business—thus for the first time in his life, Merle was unemployed. But God was good to them—Merle sent out a few résumés and letters to prospective employees and found a wide choice of jobs. He never lost a single paycheck. Since he previously had “farmed out” to the Pacific Fire Rating Bureau (Los Angeles) where fire insurance rates were set from the Sanborn maps that Merle had worked on for so long. They offered him a job and sent him to a special school with full salary. While he was working there, the insurance service officer discovered Merle’s proficiency in bowling and requested him to join their team. While on their team he helped them to win a trophy in the Greater Los Angeles Men’s Insurance League, the largest in Los Angeles.

The next few years went fast with unusual entertainment and visiting friends and family in Kansas and Oklahoma. Then Merle lost both parents in the early to mid 70s but they had lived most fulfilling lives. Mom Smith was ministering to others in a nursing home until a few days before her death. Merle admired them so much—he, too, loved people, God and Country and tried to live an exemplary life.

1977 found Merle experiencing severe heart and chest pains plus shortness of breath. His local allergist suspected heart trouble and sent Merle to Loma Linda University Medical Center with a letter to the proper physician. The Smiths went at once and after a series of tests, Merle was admitted as an inpatient. Merle underwent a double bypass, returned home in a few days, but soon felt very ill and returned to Loma Linda. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, he was admitted to the diabetic ward. The following day, Janice received a phone call. Merle was being asked to return at once to the hospital. On Halloween, 1977, Merle underwent a second open-heart surgery lasting over nine hours, by the renowned Dr. Leonard Bailey, who performed the original bypass. He was assisted via telephone by Dr. Cooley of Lt. Luke’s Hospital in Houston, Texas, who later performed heart surgery on Merle’s brother, William “Bill” Smith.

Apparently something had gone wrong during the first surgery that caused Merle’s problem. Dr. Bailey told Janice, “I hope I’ve given him two more years.” Merle took it is stride and did well. Indeed, Dr. Bailey had given Merle thirteen more years!

Janice had to spend much time of the early 1980s in Tulsa, Oklahoma, due to the illness and death of both of her parents. An only child, she felt compelled to help. Merle flew to Tulsa as he could.

Finally, after all problems were settled, the Smiths decided to travel, as they had often dreamed of doing. They saw half the world, but the greatest trip was to Pacific Asia, Singapore, Jakarta, Bali and Tokyo that were interesting places to visit, with cultures unknown to most Americans—surrounding islands are quaint, quiet, very beautiful. Their last trip was July 1990, when they left for Kauai, Hawaii. Two and one half days after arrival, Merle screamed that he couldn’t stand his pains and his concerned wife dialed 911, where she reached the only hospital on the island. Four hours later Merle was dead. Janice ran into the room within a minute or so after his death, shocked beyond belief. His last words to the nurses were, “Tell my wife I’ve always loved her, if she doesn’t arrive in time.” They said he tried desperately to hang on few more minutes. He kept asking, “How long do I have?” But he now is at peace with the Lord. He was cremated with his ashes strewn near the blowhole close to Lihue. The folks there threw lovely white blossoms on the beautiful Hawaiian waters, as a Lutheran minister performed a lovely, brief ceremony, August 1, 1990. His widow sadly returned home a few days later. After several weeks, a memorial service was conducted at his home church in Montrose, California.

Male Bowling Trophy

Male Bowling Trophy
Male Bowling Trophy

Fred Maddox and Uncle Merle

Fred Maddox and Uncle Merle
Fred Maddox and Uncle Merle

Uncle Merle and Aunt Janice

Uncle Merle and Aunt Janice
Uncle Merle and Aunt Janice

Rev. Harry W. Smith Family

Rev. Harry W. Smith Family
Rev. Harry W. Smith Family

Rev. Daisy (Hull) Smith

Rev. Daisy (Hull) Smith
Rev. Daisy (Hull) Smith

Rev. Harry Wait Smith

Rev. Harry Wait Smith
Rev. Harry Wait Smith

Siblings about 1931

Siblings about 1931
Siblings about 1931
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A Life Tribute to Wilma Janice Smith

By Harry M Smith

A Life Tribute to Wilma Janice Smith

By Harry M Smith

Wilma Janice Bell, was born August 15, 1926 in Pryor (Pryor Creek), Oklahoma, to William and Mary Jo (Buffington) Bell. William was the youngest Postmaster of a First Class Post Office in that part of the United States—a distinction that still holds. Mary Jo was a daughter of one of the Cherokee pioneer settlers in Mayes County, Oklahoma.

Janice attended Tulsa University and Oklahoma State University and graduated from the Tulsa School of Business. At 19 she took a job with the federal government as a secretary to the manager of the local Social Security Administration.

As a young lady, Janice volunteered for the position of director of children’s church, and spoke often of preparing a sermon for the children each Sunday. She also played the piano for church while she lived in Pryor Oklahoma.

Janice Bell met Merle T. Smith at a Valentines Day Party, February 14, 1948. They married April 30, 1948. Their marriage was made in Heaven—they remained a devoted couple until his death on July 30, 1990 on the island of Kauai in Hawaii—42 wonderful years together.

After Merle and Janice moved to Diamond Bar California, she worked with the children in the nursery at Walnut Christian Chapel. She was included in the 1987-88 edition of “Who’s Who in U. S. Writers, Editors and Poets.” She wrote professionally from 1972 through 1992 and for two years was secretary of The Academy of Country Music of Hollywood.

Janice loved the Lord, and loved to sing His praises. Cecile, Shauna, Shaela and I we went to see Aunt Janice last Christmas and the four of us sang Christmas Carols for her. And even at her age, she sang right along with us.

After Uncle Merle’s death in July 1990, Aunt Janice married Frank Cox on December 2, 1998. They shared a great love of country music and continued to live in Diamond Bar, California, until her death on February 13, 2007.

Aunt Janice and I had lunch together once a week for over ten years. She shared wonderful stories of growing up in Pryor Oklahoma, living upstairs above the dairy, and giving free ice cream to all her school friends; that’s one of the perks, when your Dad owns the dairy. Some of her favorite charities were the Lanterman Development Center, in Pomona; The Animal Humane Society; The National Republican Party, and the Loma Linda Hospital. Aunt Janice and I would visit the hospitals once a year when they had their appreciation banquets and her name was called as one of the chief contributors.

When something went wrong with an appliance in her home, or work needed to be done on her house, we would call for a work party; even Noelle would ask her High School friends to help. And we’d all show up for a workday. Then Aunt Janice would have a huge picnic on her back patio.

There were stories about her friends in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and her friends in Nashville, Tennessee. There were times at Sizzler, trying to see who could stack the most salad on their plate and times at Disney Land, watching the fireworks and eating clam chowder out of bread bowls. Or shopping at Thrifty, which wasn’t complete ‘till we’d had a serving of ice cream.

These are just a few of the many GREAT memories . . .

She will be greatly missed by her husband Frank, me, my brother Herb and all the many people who loved her.

Aunt Janice at home in the San Fernando Valley

Aunt Janice at home in the San Fernando Valley
Aunt Janice at home in the San Fernando Valley

Aunt Janice with Tennessee Ernie Ford

Aunt Janice with Tennessee Ernie Ford
Aunt Janice with Tennessee Ernie Ford

Aunt Janice with Johnny Cash

Aunt Janice with Johnny Cash
Aunt Janice with Johnny Cash

Wilma J Smith and Frank Cox

Wilma J Smith and Frank Cox
Wilma J Smith and Frank Cox

Trip to Hilo, Hawaii in 1974

Trip to Hilo, Hawaii in 1974
Trip to Hilo, Hawaii in 1974

Friends on the Hawaii trip

Friends on the Hawaii trip
Friends on the Hawaii trip

Bowling for Dollars - A television game show

Bowling for Dollars is a television game show on which people could play the sport of bowling to win cash and sometimes prizes based on how well they bowled.

Unlike most TV game shows of the time, which were taped in New York or Hollywood and broadcast nationally, Bowling for Dollars was produced by local TV stations and only had contestants from the immediate area. The show was actually a franchise, created by Bert Claster of Claster Television, also the creator of Romper Room. Episodes of Bowling for Dollars were taped either in a local bowling alley, or on a pair of bowling lanes constructed right inside the TV studio.

Tell me about your hobbies; it may not be bowing, so what is it?

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    • lollyj lm profile image

      Laurel Johnson 6 years ago from Washington KS

      I enjoy reading about the exceptional people who quietly go about their everyday lives without fanfare. This is a wonderful lens. Thanks for sharing it.

      Hobbies? Mine are photography and writing.