There are many individuals who have made significant contributions to the development of facilities and programs at McDowell Technical Community College since the college first became an independent institution in 1967.
Others have left their mark on the college by their contributions to the growth and development of students, both individually and corporately.
Few, however, have had as great an impact in both areas as the late Harold Smith.
Smith, the man.
Before his death in 1997, Smith was a businessman and owner of Smith’s Esso and Exxon on Main Street in Marion, which sat at the corner of Main Street and New Street where Marion City Hall is now located.
But he was much more than just owner of the Esso station; Smith pumped gas, washed windows and changed tires, just like the teenage boys who worked for him from time-to-time. Today, we would call him a “working” owner. And in his spare time, Smith volunteered with the Marion Fire Department.
In fact, in his younger days, he and the late Sparky Parker roomed together in an apartment over the Marion Fire Department and were the first ones called when a fire broke out in Marion at night. While Parker went on to marry and become the personnel director at Marion Manufacturing, Smith remained single throughout his life, focusing his time on his business and volunteering as a fireman.
Over the years, Smith mentored many of the young men he hired to work in his Esso Station and helped those who were interested to continue their education.
Smith, the philanthropist.
Despite his generosity, Smith himself lived frugally throughout his life, and unbeknownst to many, through savings and investment, he accumulated a sizeable estate. Before his death, he approached lawyer Steve Little, now mayor of Marion, and asked him to draft a will that would leave the proceeds of his estate to a trust that would provide for the education of young men and women in McDowell County who might not otherwise be able to pursue post-secondary education.
He also approached a close friend, Matt Smith (no relation), and asked him to be a trustee for the funds left in his estate. He agreed, and upon Harold Smith’s death, he became a trustee of the W. Harold Smith Educational Trust, whose original goal was to provide scholarship aid to needy McDowell County students.
Smith, the personal legacy.
The W. Harold Smith Educational Trust began in 1998, after the estate settled, with an initial endowment of $2.3 million dollars. The Trust’s investment strategy was sound and during the early years of the Foundation, the fund grew significantly, outstripping the demand and need for scholarship funds.
In fact, over the years, the W. Harold Smith Educational Trust has given scholarships totaling $2,796,474.06 to hundreds of needy graduates of McDowell High School who attend state and private colleges and universities throughout the region.
While many community college students receive federal Pell grants or state aide to pay for their education, the Trust has also given thousands of dollars in scholarship aid to MTCC students since its establishment.
Many of these students would not otherwise have been able to attend college, pursue new careers, advance in their current careers, or break a cycle of unemployment had it not been for Smith’s generous legacy. Most of them probably didn’t even know who Smith was, and fewer still had ever met him. Some were just toddlers or elementary-age kids when Smith died. But, they are now nurses, teachers, paramedics, welders, electricians, plumbers and other professionals because the W. Harold Smith Educational Trust helped fund their education.
Smith, the corporate legacy.
Several years ago, Matt Smith and other administrators of the Trust went to court to ask the court to expand the Trust’s mission by allowing trustees to use excess funds to provide assistance to needy students in a more collective way through gifts to McDowell Technical Community College and other institutions.
When the court granted their request, the W. Harold Smith Educational Trust began to provide funds to McDowell Technical Community College to assist primarily with facility needs that benefit all MTCC students. In the 2006-2007 academic year, for example, the Trust provided $100,000 to equip the newest building on campus, initially designated, “Building 19.”
On June 1, 2007, Building 19 was renamed the Harold Smith Building, in honor and memory of Harold Smith, following an earlier vote by the college’s board of trustees. A portrait of Smith was hung in the lobby of the new building at the time of the dedication.
Over the 10 years since that time, thousands of students have taken classes in everything from computer technology to fire, EMS and rescue training, or participated in N.C. Department of Corrections’ in-service training, mental health workshops and a host of other workshops and conferences.
Smith, in life and in death.
From 1998 through the end of 2016, the college and its students have been the recipients of more than $1.2 million in funding from the Educational Trust. That averages out to more than $72,000 per year.
Harold Smith was a single man with a successful business. He might have chosen to live the “high-life” or hire others to do the dirty work in his business. But instead, he worked hard, lived modestly and devoted himself to helping others through his service to the fire and rescue community and mentoring the young folks who worked with him at the Esso station. And through the action of the Trust which he established before his death, generations of students will be able to make a better life for themselves and their families for decades to come.
In life and in death, Harold Smith provided an example of an honorable life—a simple life of devotion to the things that matter. His impact on the McDowell Technical Community College family cannot be understated.