Smith enjoys 8 decades of Hawkeye football

Sept. 18, 2009

IOWA CITY, Iowa — At 91 years of age, Charlie Smith is more alive than ever.

The 1940 graduate of the University of Iowa recites tales from high school and college with ease. Every Tuesday he volunteers as a Hawkeye Ambassador at the University of Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame, and when Iowa defeated Northern Iowa on Sept. 5, it marked the 80th season in which Smith has attended a Hawkeye football game.

“Penn State zero, Iowa 19,” Smith says with pride and accuracy of watching his first Hawkeye football game. That was the homecoming contest on Nov. 15, 1930. “I’ve seen games ever since. Gee whiz, there was a whole smorgasbord of wonderful games.”

Smith was born Jan. 22, 1918 in Coralville, Iowa. He moved outside of Oxford and lived there until his family lost its farm. When he was 8, Smith, two siblings and his parents, relocated to North Liberty, which had a population of 161 at the time. Five years later, when Smith was 13, his father died. A 1936 graduate of University High School in Iowa City, Smith remained close to home and enrolled at the UI.

“In my high school graduating class of 52, there were four or five later to be Phi Beta Kappa. I was not one of them,” laughed Smith.

In order to pay board during his four years as a collegian, Smith worked at the Memorial Union for 30 cents an hour. As a senior, he picked up a second job monitoring the Commerce Reading Room. One of Smith’s duties at the Union was to help serve training table meals to athletes. A famous classmate at the time was eventual Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick.

“Can you imagine the football squad after a hard practice?” Smith asked. “This is the depression and they get to tie into a T-bone steak, orange juice and milk. Even food was hard to come by, so what a treat it was for this football squad. That’s when I started a nodding acquaintance with Kinnick. He was in such demand and everyone wanted to be his best friend. I could expound all day on him…Kinnick was a forward-thinker. When it came to classes like business management, corporation finance, money and banking, labor economics and lecture classes, yes, I was a classmate of his.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in science and commerce in 1940. Five days after commencement, he began working at Rath Packing in Waterloo in sales training.

“Penn State zero, Iowa 19,” Charlie Smith says with pride and accuracy of watching his first Hawkeye football game. That was the homecoming contest on Nov. 15, 1930. “I’ve seen games ever since. Gee whiz, there was a whole smorgasbord of wonderful games.”

“We worked in the plant to get the idea of the meat packing industry, some night school, and then we went on sales routes,” Smith said.

Although 20/200 vision kept him out of combat in World War II, Smith served 35 months in the Army as a meat inspector, making sure all orders were filled according to specifications. He worked 42 ½ years for Rath.

“I’ve had a wonderful life,” Smith said.

The character-building and teamwork learned through athletics attracted Smith, who received 11 athletic and two citizenship letters in high school. Athletics is also a venue that led to one of his few laments in life.

“I loved achievers and I still do. I was always quite ambitious,” Smith said. “I’m dismayed if a student throws his opportunities away. When I was in college I had to toe the line because my father died. When I was a freshman I was really over-booked. I was second man on the Iowa freshman cross country team and I dropped the sport because you can imagine doing all I was doing and you had to train properly, so I had to give up something. I had fully-intended to get back to that and get my letter in distance running, but I never got back to it. I would have loved to have had a major letter. It is one of my regrets.”

Smith met his wife, Dorothy, while the two were students at University High. Dorothy also turned 91 on June 25, and Smith chuckles when telling how the two met. It is a story he has narrated many times.

“Shy little Charlie comes in from North Liberty and I was too shy to ask a girl for a date for quite a few years,” he said. “We were in typing class together. We met in typing class and I deducted she was just my type.”

The couple married Oct. 18, 1941.

Charlie and Dorothy, who reside in the Cambridge Apartments on Melrose Avenue, have three children — Steve of Iowa City, Ann Tack of Cedar Rapids, and Elizabeth Lynch of Milwaukee, Wis.

“We have three children and we’ve been blessed,” Smith said. “They have good marriages. We have eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren and it’s a blessing.”

Both Charlie and Dorothy have exceeded the average U.S. life expectancy by more than 13 years. Smith doesn’t have a secret to longevity.

“If I were to go to school again, I would study the genes more. It’s hard to overcome genes. You’ve been blessed with them and you hope they’re good genes,” Smith said. “I had heart palpitations in 1950, but I’m still here. They said I had diabetes, but it must have been awful mild. I believe the good Lord has an influence.”

A pulled leg ligament forces Smith to walk with a cane, but that won’t keep him from beginning his eighth decade of watching Hawkeye football games in person.

“I may be about to the end of the line on that,” Smith said. “I’m going this year, though. I just love the University of Iowa and everything about it — the hospital, the school, the opportunities.”