Dorothy M. Smith

Dorothy M. Smith

MADISON, WIS./CHAMPAIGN, ILL – Achieving her goal of living longer than anyone else in her family, Dorothy M. Smith died on April 11, 2012. Born April 18, 1916 in Douglas County Illinois, she was the oldest child of John Thomas (Jack) Dearnbarger and his teenaged bride, Minnie Kroll Dearnbarger. She grew up in Chesterville, Illinois, a hamlet surrounded by Amish farms, attending both West Prairie Amish School and Chesterville’s one room school.

Dorothy’s greatest source of pride was her family of origin, which imbued her with a strong sense of self worth. Her illiterate father’s efforts to insure that his children receive the education denied to him inspired her fierce beliefs in the importance of family and education.

A devoted big sister to five younger siblings, Dorothy took her role as family matriarch seriously, keeping in touch with her nieces and nephews until she died, and doing her best to help instill in them a strong sense of family pride and history.

After graduating from Arcola High School, Dorothy attended Eastern Illinois State Teacher’s College, graduating in 1938 – no small feat for a girl whose father signed his name with an ‘X’. While at Eastern she studied with the regionalist painter Paul Turner Sargent. Besides art, her favorite courses included zoology, botany and geology.

As a young teacher in east central Illinois, she met Philip W. Smith. Still in high school, Phil’s determination to attend college and become a zoologist impressed her mightily. Dorothy helped him pursue both his undergraduate and graduate degrees. They married in 1942. Later, his international reputation was an enormous source of pride to her. She remained his supportive and enthusiastic helpmate until his death in 1987.

Dorothy’s career as Assistant to the Director of the University of Illinois Natural History Museum in Urbana lasted thirty years. Because both she and Phil worked in zoology, their house was continuously filled with a variety of unusual pets. Her concern for animals led her to create over one hundred replicas of the original Teddy Bear, replete with wooden joints, which she donated to fundraisers for the Champaign County Humane Society.

After retirement, she and Phil led wildlife tours to Africa, Australia, South America and the Galapagos Islands. These international travels were a highlight of her life. Dorothy loved telling people about having seen the great African mammals and of having swum with piranas in the Amazon.

Besides nature, Dorothy’s passions included needlework, genealogy, gardening, carving, antiques and nearly everything else she encountered. She served in various offices of the Champaign County Antique Study Group, and when she became interested in antique dolls, helped to organize an Antique Doll Club. Her dolls won awards at national conventions, and she enjoyed sewing historically correct costumes for them.

A skilled seamstress, she made many of her family’s clothes, including her grandchildren’s down parkas. She was especially proud of the costumes she created for the country’s sesquicentennial. Her energy, creativity, and ability to problem solve were legendary.

Dorothy’s boundless energy, sensuous embrace of life and egalitarian friendliness earned her devoted friends from every age group. A life long learner, she took classes in such diverse areas as Spanish and belly dancing. Loving language, she sprinkled her conversation with the Spanish words she knew as well as lines from poems. On her deathbed, she quoted Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Crossing the Bar, to her daughter, stressing the lines, “‘Let there be no moaning of the bar when I put out to sea'”.

Proud of her two grandchildren and three great grandchildren, she often mentioned how lucky she was to have lived long enough to get to know them. Besides her husband, and four siblings, she was preceeded in death by a granddaughter, Joan Eleanor Hoffman, and a great grandson, John Levin. Survivors include her daughter, April Hoffman (John) of Madison, Wisconsin, two grandchildren: Suzanne Levin (Jared) of Hastings on Hudson, New York, and Dr. John Langston Hoffman (Kimberly) of St. Louis, as well as three great grandchildren, Cheyenne Hoffman and Henry and George Levin. Her one remaining sister, Joan Duncan, lives in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Funeral services will be private. Dorothy’s family thanks the staff of Sebring Assisted Living for their tender care of Dorothy during the past six years.