The Mayor’s Award of Excellence goes this year to Bill and Reba Smith of Derby.
The couple may best be known for their many years in the local business community, through Smith Family Mortuaries. But their impact goes deep into work with local organizations and their church for the past 40 years.
The Smiths have been Derby residents since 1972, when they noted that Derby was the largest community in the state without its own mortuary. Bill was working in Wichita, but they moved to town and began construction on the original Smith Mortuary at 302 N. Georgie, now the First Christian Church Powerhouse.
“It was a boom town ... and we decided it was good to start,” Bill said.
The building was completed in February 1973 and a year later the couple purchased Hilyard-Smith Funeral Home in Douglass. Bill had his first job in that mortuary as a high school student in Douglass.
Three years later the couple purchased the Senter Funeral Home in Mulvane and currently Smith Family Mortuaries has six locations around the area. After outgrowing the original location, it moved to north Rock Road in 1994.
Today Bill and Reba are semi-retired and their son Justin is running the business. The past two years the business has been honored with the National Funeral Directors Association Pursuit of Excellence Award.
Reba indicated the owners feel some humbleness in knowing that other families chose their mortuary business at a time of great importance to families.
“Thank you to Derby for trusting us,” Reba said. “I think it is an honor when anyone chooses our firm.”
The Smiths recall some tough times in the early years because the community of 5,500 residents was primarily young people – not always great for the funeral business.
At the time, Bill and Reba were raising their sons, so involvement in the community became a blend of family activities, church involvement, community expectations of business owners, and a personal desire to be part of the community.
“We felt it was important to be involved with people and to get to know them,” Reba said. “It’s something we just both enjoyed.”
The couple’s service to the community came as the community grew. Bill looks back on his years with organizations such as the city Planning Commission, when city hall operated on a bare bones staff – and no city planner – and the meetings ran into late night hours.
“It was work back then,” he said.
They are active members of Woodlawn United Methodist Church. Both have been actively involved in numerous projects and committees at the church. Reba was a founder of the Mom’s Day Out program at Woodlawn and she served as president and board member of Jack and Jill Preschool, a community outreach program of the church.
Today she gains some satisfaction in knowing those programs continue, as she is now a grandmother to three in the community.
“I’m involved with my little granddaughter, going to Wee Panther Pals every week,” she said.
The couple said they are strong supporters of the coming school bond issue.
“Understand that a lot of what brought us to Derby was the education in the schools,” he said.
While he may not have been a native of the community, Bill has longtime family ties and has been instrumental in leading the organization which tracks the community’s history. He was a founding member of the Derby Historical Society, served as its first president and continues to work in many capacities for the organization. Bill’s uncle was Chet Smith, a former longtime grocer in the community.
“I think any community needs to record its history,” he said.
The Mayor’s Award of Excellence program began in 2002 and has become a tradition to honor a person, family, organization or business which has contributed significantly to the community. The Smiths said they believe volunteerism is important.
“Any community that has a spirit of volunteerism is a vibrant community,” Bill said.