Smith Retires after 30 Years at Haskell

Nov 15th, 2002 | By | Category: 14-2: American Indian Higher Education Consortium 30th Anniversary, Tribal College News
By Mary Pierpoint

A good-natured joke often circulated on the Haskell Indian Nations University campus in Lawrence, KS, “At five o’clock, Benny Smith goes home to start his real job.” The comment would bring smiles to the faces of staff and students alike as Smith jumped into his pickup and headed down the road. They all knew he was going back home to work with his beloved horses.

When Smith retired last summer, he left a void for students and staff alike, who remember his homespun humor and attitude of caring. “He is going to be missed because of all of the things he has done for Haskell, above and beyond his job description,” Haskell President Dr. Karen Swisher said. “He is a counselor on paper, but he has been more than that. He has been a teacher, a coach, a mentor, and a father figure to many. He has made a tremendous impact on whether many students stayed in school or not. Those with a close association to him stuck with it, and they continually give him thanks for helping them stay in school.”

The horse training, horse shoeing, teacher, counselor, and assistant dean of students has become a legend of sorts in the Lawrence, KS, area. He has been featured in Western Horseman Magazine and numerous newspaper stories across the country.

To students, Smith has been an inspiration of how one man can make a difference in many lives. In the past 30 years, Smith has joined students in their joy and in their grief and has become the unofficial spiritual foundation of the school. He was often awakened by calls from the sheriff’s office and made the grim trips to hospitals when students had been involved in accidents. Smith led memorials for those who died in accidents, and often it was he who accompanied the bodies of students back to their loved ones after such tragedies occurred.

He helped those who were homesick and discouraged stay in school, and their victories became his over the years. Although he was a product of the infamous Indian boarding schools, Smith held on to both his Cherokee heritage and traditions and his love of horses. He arrived at boarding school in a horse-drawn wagon and later sold the last horse of his childhood to pay for college expenses. He turned those experiences into inspiration for students year after year at Haskell.

His wisdom with both horses and students made him a favorite at Haskell since he arrived there in 1971. He didn’t lecture; he taught by subtly being a role model. For over 30 years homesick students have found a second home at the Smith place. He and his wife, Cheryl, now plan on traveling and continuing to train horses. But five o’clock on the Haskell campus just isn’t the same as employees absently glance out their windows, hoping to see Benny Smith’s taillights.

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