Last year's recipient of the Outstanding Male Citizen award, Joe Bagby, passed away shortly after receiving the honor. In his absence, Jim Wilks along with Joe's wife, Paula, made the presentation to this year's honoree, Vershell Smith.
Mr. Smith was born in Ballenger, Texas in 1929. He was an honor student, a band member and worked in his father's service station while in high school. He even helped his father keep the service station open 24 hours a day during World War II.
He graduated high school as a sixteen-year old from Ballenger High School; he graduated three years later from Howard Payne University. Following graduation, Mr. Smith's plans were to attend medical school.
His plans changed, however, and he put medical school on hold when the superintendent of Bronte schools asked Mr. Smith to visit and was talked into by a friend to be the school's band director. He led the Bronte High School Band for four years and loved working with the students.
In 1953, Mr. Smith became the band director at Grand Falls High School, eventually serving the Grand Falls school district for 24 years as band director, teacher and high school principal. He even made a deal with the superintendent: if he would go to the school board meetings and keep the board members happy, Mr. Smith would run the school--a deal that worked out fine.
Mr. Smith also had a great deal going with Jim Caldwell with Caldwell Music Company in Abilene. If he needed an instrument, music or anything else, he would call Mr. Caldwell. Two hours later, an airplane would touch down in front of the Grand Falls High School with Mr. Caldwell himself making the delivery.
While Mr. Smith served as high school principal one year, he was in need of a home economics teacher and hired Ms. Woody from Fort Stockton, the Pecos County Home Demonstration agent. When school began that fall, Mr. Smith's history class had a bright student who happened to be the daughter of Ms. Woody. He eventually married the new home economics teacher, Ms. Joyce Woody, in 1970 and got the bright student as a bonus.
Mr. Smith also was a member of the Grand Fall Lions Club in the 1950s, serving in every office as well as President. He also served as the District Governor of the Lions Club International in 1968-69 for Texas District 2-T-3.
He joined the Sweetwater Lions Club in 1981 and also served in every way possible; he was elected to the Texas Lions Hall of Fame in 2001.
He also served as the principal of Roscoe High School from 1977-81, but came to Sweetwater High School to teach history, government and psychology in 1981-82. The next four years until 1986, he held a new occupation as the Vocational Adjustment Coordinator, which also included job placement duties.
In 1986, Mr. Smith transitioned into the job of Vocational Job Placement Coordinator and remained until 2010, ultimately serving 14 schools in his position.
Today, Mr. Smith is a member of the First Baptist Church of Trent. He leads the music and is under the pastorship of Ronnie Freeman, his friend and also a former co-worker from this Job Placement Coordinator days. He also is a long-term member of the Sweetwater Downtown Bible Class and currently serves as one of the class leaders.
Three of the hundreds of Mr. Smith's success stories were shared during the presentation. "Jason" was a 17 year old high-schooler and the oldest of four siblings in a single parent home. He greatly wanted to finish high school, but knew he had to work to help his mother.
Both Jason and his mother had no money for appropriate clothes to go on a job interview, but Mr. Smith got Jason an interview with a local business. He got the job and stayed in high school, but Jason showed up that day for his interview with a new haircut, shirt, pants, socks and shoes--all from Mr. Smith.
Secondly, Mr. Smith also helped Susanne, a pregnant teenage student who was kicked out from her house by her parents because of the pregnancy. She had to provide diapers and formula for the baby; she needed clothes for both the baby and herself and knew she had to work to provide those things.
Mr. Smith helped Susanne in finding work, finishing high school and in entering community college, resulting in not just one person being impacted but generations of lives changes.
Lonnie, finally, was a young teacher living in another community when Mr. Smith offered him a position as a school administrator. Lonnie came to Mr. Smith's house asking for advice and found an accepting heart and open door.
Mr. Smith also provided encouragement, self-worth and realization, as well as continued mentorship to Lonnie even after he accepted the position. Lonnie found success in the job and went on to become a Regional Education Service Center Specialist--teaching and leading adults with bachelor degrees to become teachers.
Mr. Smith made sure than Lonnie, among others, had the tools and skills to be successful early in their careers, thus extending the sphere of influence.
Throughout his 60 years of service in the Texas public school systems, Mr. Smith has been a teacher, counselor and mentor to both youth and adults.
"He is a phenomenal role model to his students, former students, and friends," said Mr. Wilks during the presentation. "Mustang Bowl would not hold all the people whose lives [Mr. Smith] has touched, helped and impacted in his career."