Remember John T. Smith

GEORGETOWN — After graduating from the UI, where John T. and Jeanne Smith met and fell in love, the farm boy from Elkhart and the city girl from

Chicago moved to tiny Georgetown to teach.

It was 1962. Within a matter of weeks, they’d immersed themselves in the local community.

Jeanne and “John T,” as everyone came to know him, quickly became fixtures in the premier event — the Georgetown Fair.

“He and his wife grew some roots and raised a family and really got involved from the get-go,” said Don Hackler, president of the Georgetown Fair board.

By 1967, John T was a fair board director. Jeanne went on to spend more than 20 years as fair office manager.

Last month, just before what would have been his 50th fair as board director, John T. passed away at age 79. Jeanne preceded him in death by two years.

On Aug. 3, two days before opening day of the 79th Georgetown Fair, the couple will be honored in memoriam when a section of Seminary Street, which runs along the west edge of the fairgrounds, is dedicated as John T. and Jeanne Smith Honorary Way.

“I just know the fair was one of the places that was nearest and dearest to my dad and mom’s heart,” said the oldest of their four children, Kris Muehlher of Georgetown.

She said her parents devoted their lives to the community and were involved in almost every organization in Georgetown, starting with the fair. She and her two sisters and their brother considered themselves fair brats as kids.

“We pretty much grew up at the fair. ... That was kind of where we spent our summers,” she said.

Hackler said two signs have already been made and will be unveiled at the fair board’s annual kickoff banquet. That event is typically attended by about 350 people, including everyone involved with the fair, from

sponsors to volunteers.

Mayor Darin Readnour said the materials for the signs were donated, and city workers likely will do the work to put them in place.

Mitch Weaver, a Vermilion County Board member who brought up the idea to honor the Smiths during a Georgetown City Council meeting, was a student of John T, who taught agriculture and building trades for 38 years at the high school in Georgetown.

“Not only did he capture a lot of hearts at school, he did a lot for the city,” Weaver said. “I don’t think he knew a stranger. He was gentle. He could talk to anybody, but he was stern ... especially with his students. You were going to listen to him. He kept his students straight. I wish we could have done this for him before he passed.”

Hackler and Readnour both emphasized that the Smiths would not have wanted the attention.

So Hackler presented the honorary way idea to Muehlher and the rest of the family, leaving it up to them.

“My first thought was ‘Oh boy, I don’t know that Mom and Dad would want that,’ because they were so humble,” Muehlher said.

She quickly changed her mind.

“It’s quite an honor, and it just means the world to our family,” she said. “They just did everything together, so I think it’s very fitting and a very nice honor.”

She said her dad will also be honored at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield for county fair day on Aug. 11. That’s when those who served for 50 or more years on local fair boards are recognized.

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