Monday, January 9, 2023
Media Contact: Kaitlyn Weldon | Digital Communications Specialist | 405-744-7063 | email@example.com
A lot can happen in 91 years. Just ask Lieu Smith.
Born on Aug. 9, 1931, in Michigan City, Indiana, Smith moved to a wheat farm just 10 miles from Okeene, Oklahoma, and started school in a one-room country schoolhouse.
“It was the depths of the Great Depression, so life was tough,” said Smith, a 1954 and 1957 graduate of Oklahoma A&M College. “I was on the farm in the Dust Bowl days.”
When the area schools consolidated, Smith began attending a new school in Okeene.
“It was still a small school, but at least we had a different teacher for each class,” Smith said. “There were not any specialized classes like chemistry or advanced mathematics back then like students get to take today.”
Smith obtained his bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering in 1954. He spent his junior and senior years in the college’s ROTC.
Upon graduation, he spent two years commissioned in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
After his commission ended, Smith returned to OAMC to earn a master’s degree in structural engineering, graduating in 1957.
“Going to Oklahoma State, which was then Oklahoma A&M, was a big challenge,” Smith said, “so, it took me a while to get adjusted.”
After graduation, Smith went to work for an engineering company in upstate New York. The firm began work on the U.S. interstate highway system.
“Construction was just getting started, and they were looking for structural engineers,” Smith said. “So, I went to work designing grade crossings and highway bridges. The job got me started, but after a few years, I got tired of designing the same thing over and over again.”
In 1961, Smith was called back to active duty during the Berlin Crisis.
“I was stationed in Granite City, Illinois, at the engineering depot there,” Smith said.
In 1962, Smith interviewed for Sverdrup Corp. in St. Louis, Missouri. “Sverdrup Corp. had just gotten a contract to do the preliminary work for what is now the Stennis Space Center,” he said.
Sverdrup Corp. won the contract to do the final design of all the big rocket engine test stands. Extensive structural engineering was involved, Smith said, and the work later got him deeply involved in the NASA Space Program.
“I became familiar with rockets,” Smith said. “I was selected as a project manager for the same test stands in the space shuttle program.”
As a project manager, Smith learned he was talented at project organization. Getting a team together, solving problems throughout a project, executing and completing the projects on schedule and on budget are all critical for a project manager, he said.
“I was finally selected to be the program manager for the space shuttle complex at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California,” Smith said. “This was probably the most complex job that I had ever been assigned to.”
For the Vandenberg project, Smith directed 162 engineers and technicians. TIME magazine even featured the project, labeling it as “the most sophisticated military complex ever built.”
“We submitted that project for an award and won first place in 1985,” Smith said. “It was the Grand Conceptor Award for Excellence in Engineering from the American Consulting Engineers Council.”
Because of the prestige surrounding this prize he won several awards for himself and his company.
In 1993, Smith retired from Sverdrup Corp. where he was serving as the vice president of advanced technology projects.
Looking back, Smith remembers those who helped him along the way, one of those people having been a school teacher in Okeene, he said. His freshman English teacher, Kathryn Lorene Whiteturkey, was a Cherokee Nation citizen.
“She was very kind to me,” Smith said. “She encouraged me to continue my education.”
This teacher inspired Smith to make a $1.1 million gift decades later in the form of a scholarship to the Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine–Cherokee Nation.
As Smith studied Oklahoma history growing up, he learned of various things the Native American people experienced such as the Trail of Tears.
“When I read about the program OSU has to teach people to become doctors of osteopathic medicine, I decided this was a way I could help pay back the Native Americans,” he said.
The scholarship is meant to support two Native American female students who attend the OSUCOM–CN. The scholarship bears Whiteturkey’s name first to honor his former teacher, followed by his own.
Smith’s philanthropic efforts go beyond scholarships. Every Wednesday, Smith spends his time at the Loaves and Fishes Food Bank of the Ozarks in Berryville, Arkansas.
“I go down and volunteer,” Smith said. “Every Wednesday we get a shipment of government commodities or food that we purchase. I’ll be there to help receive that shipment, put them on the floor, and get them ready to hand out.”
Smith helped design the food bank and fund the project. Today, the food bank feeds about 600 to 700families a month in Carroll County, Arkansas.
“Smith wasn’t a founder of the food bank, but he was one that really took it to another level,” said Jason Tennant, a member of the board of directors for the Loaves and Fishes Food Bank. “He’s a tireless worker for the food bank and has done a tremendous job.”
Smith always looks for ways to continue to improve on the food bank, Tennant said. He never slows down and is very passionate about the food bank.
“Although the food bank would be there without him, it is so much more with him,” Tennant said. “In the 20 years or so that I’ve known him, I don’t know anyone in the area who doesn’t think the world of him.”
Others also attest to the character and drive Smith has as well as the positive impressions he leaves on them.
“He is a strong individual, very intelligent and extremely thoughtful,” said Mari Chinn, department head of the OSU Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering. “He has a charismatic demeanor about him and even with all of his significant accomplishments is quite humble.”
Smith was selected to be a 2022 Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Distinguished Alumnus for his professional contributions. He also was inducted into the OSU College of Engineering and Architectural Technology Hall of Fame as well as received the Lohmann Medal, one of CEAT’s highest technical honors.
“My investment is all just part of my giving back to society for all of the blessings and benefits I’ve had from a lot of good people who have helped me,” Smith said.
Story By: Michelle Noggle | Cowboy Journal