When he started in the School of Law in 1969, the Jesuit ideals were already firmly rooted within Walter J. Smith, JD’72. Nearly 40 years before, his own father Walter H. Smith, had left his Bellwood, Nebraska, family farm to attend Creighton University where he would earn both his undergraduate and Juris Doctor degrees.
“Creighton provided a strong foundation for careers in law. My father thrived at Creighton,” said son Walt. “He came from a humble beginning, created a career for himself, and he made a difference in his community.”
“There is a healthy amount of serendipity in life. In my life, a lot of it happened at Creighton.” For example, the day before he started law school, Walt learned that he was the beneficiary of a full-tuition Creighton scholarship.
“I received a wonderful legal education at Creighton and believe my family and I would not be where we are today but for the opportunities afforded me by my scholarship,” Walt said. “I was really surprised to receive it, particularly at the last minute, as was my father, who was a little choked up when I told him about it. At the time, I was a bit puzzled by his reaction, but I now realize it was because of the tremendous financial burden he and my mother experienced in putting their eight children through college.”
The Honorable Walter H. Smith, BA’35, JD’37, ran a private practice in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, served for years as County Attorney, and was later a Nebraska District Judge. He and Margaret Ortman Smith married at St. John’s Church on Creighton’s campus in 1938 and together, raised eight children. Judge Smith lived a life marked by family values, service to others and the pursuit of truth in all its forms.
“He was a man of integrity, without question,” Walt said. “My parents were active in the church and the community. My father seemed to be involved in everything, like serving as the announcer at the annual fall festival for many years. He had a traditional small-town law practice, where he handled matters in virtually every area of the law and understood many of the challenges faced by his clients. I remember that he would occasionally accept chickens as payment for services during tax season!”
Throughout his life, Judge Smith maintained a sense of responsibility to those around him, of cura personalis, that defines his legacy as a generous man of good faith. To honor his legacy, Walt and his wife, Mary Lou Dreves Smith, established the Hon. Walter H. Smith Scholarship at Creighton University in 2007.
The Smiths’ generosity has helped provide access for men and women to develop a foundation of moral values for a lifelong service in law and as citizens of their communities. Mary Lou, who attended Creighton from 1966 to 1968 before moving to New York City to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology, says that Creighton University has meant a great deal to their family.
“Walt’s parents and my parents were wonderful people and hard workers, but of the four of them, Walt’s father was the only one who had the opportunity to go to college,” Mary Lou said. “It is important for us to help support someone else who has a dream, but who might not be able to fulfill it without financial assistance.”