Jerry Smith is lauded for his contributions to philanthropy
A mournful time in Jerry Smith’s life following the death of his beloved wife became a bright light for Clark nursing students. Jerry finds boundless joy in watching students he supports make their way into the nursing field. His giving has brought him so much elation that he’s established an endowment so generations of students will have access to a quality education.
For Jerry and Louvenia “Lou” Smith, marriage was a true partnership. High school sweethearts, they married young and started a family right away.
Their dedicated partnership was critical to launching their respective careers. Throughout his 20s, Jerry worked during the day and went to night school to earn his bachelor’s degree. After he graduated, Jerry took a turn caring for the couple’s two young children while Lou went to college. She graduated at 33.
“She always wanted to be a nurse,” he said. “She loved helping people and she loved being a nurse.”
Lou worked in occupational nursing for 25 years and Jerry had a successful career as a business executive in the manufacturing industry. They retired in their late 50s and spent years sailing the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway
In 2014, they embarked on another adventure together. The couple packed up their minivan and left North Carolina, their home of 71 years, to move to the Pacific Northwest to be closer to their son and grandsons.
But a few months after they settled in Vancouver, Lou was diagnosed with cancer. Two months later, she died.
“I really felt empty,” Jerry said. He was living thousands of miles from most of his friends, with only his son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren to comfort him.
He decided to do what his wife of 54 years would have done: help others. He picked up the phone and called Clark College Foundation.
“I would like to find out more about your nursing program,” he said to Vivian Manning, director of development and gift planning.
Manning offered Jerry a tour of Clark’s nursing school. As he walked through the building, Jerry said he could feel the presence of his wife.
“She was a very caring, gentle, soft-hearted person,” he said of Lou.
Before heading back to his car, Jerry committed on the spot to funding scholarships for two nursing students. Jerry may not have realized it at the time but in honoring his late wife he was also forging new partnerships—with Clark, with Clark College Foundation and with the many nursing students he has gone on to help.
Before long, Jerry was funding scholarships for eight students at a time. Until the pandemic, he met all the scholarship recipients in person.
“That’s one of the high points of my life: to meet the nursing students face-to-face and talk to them, hear their story … and see the joy it brings them,” he said.
Recipients of the Louvenia “Lou” Hart Smith, BSRN, COHN Memorial Scholarship write letters to Jerry, introducing themselves and explaining how the scholarship money has helped them achieve their goals.
Jerry saves each letter and he keeps in touch with many of the students. He attends their pinning ceremonies, a tradition to welcome new nurses into the profession. He receives Christmas cards from them, stuffed with photos of their growing kids or news of a new home. One student, now graduated, meets Jerry for coffee several times a year.
“Nurses are not just ordinary people,” he said. “They have to have a big heart.”
Jerry is not just ordinary people either. Recently, he worked with Clark College Foundation to
establish an endowment that will permanently fund the scholarships honoring his wife.
“In the future, when I’m not around, the endowment will still help the nursing students at Clark,” he said.
Story by Lily Raff McCaulou, a journalist whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian and Rolling Stone. She lives in Bend, Ore. Visit her online at www.lilyrm.com.