Bob and Adele Smith, 17-year residents of Idyllwild, are leaving the Hill for health reasons, moving to The Village in Hemet from their Alpen Woods Estates home at the top of Fern Valley.
With their departure, Idyllwild loses two extraordinarily accomplished individuals with distinguished careers, each of whom are warm, gracious and fun to be around. They have contributed much to this community and they will be missed.
“Idyllwild is our spiritual home,” said Bob, whose Hill roots go back generations to his grandfather’s purchase of land in Pinewood, north of Pine Cove. Then as now, it was off-the-grid living. “We came up for a month every summer, basically living outdoors,” said Bob. “The cabin was mostly for storage. When living outdoors you become acquainted with your neighbors, the plants and animals, canyons and peaks that are your living space.” Pinewood also was the magnet that drew the Smiths back to the Hill after retiring from careers in Las Vegas and Ogden, Utah.
They met while students at Wheaton College in Illinois, both ministers’ kids. Bob, who graduated one year ahead of Adele, went to Cal Berkeley to pursue his doctorate degree in organic chemistry. They married in Phoenix in 1959, where Adele’s parents lived and where she had gone to high school, and drove to Berkeley in their VW bus.
In 1961, they settled in Las Vegas where Bob spent the next 20 years helping to create the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He served as assistant, then associate, professor of chemistry. Seven years after joining the faculty, he became the founding dean of science, mathematics and engineering while continuing as professor of chemistry.
While in Las Vegas, Adele taught junior high school, then became a reporter and feature writer for the Las Vegas Review Journal. She served as volunteer director for Planned Parenthood of Southern Nevada. In 1980, Adele found what she called her “dream job” as assistant to the station manager of KNPR, Nevada’s first public-radio station. “Truth be told,” said Bob, “she did as much as anyone to get Nevada’s first public-radio station on the air.”
In 1981, the Smiths moved to Odgen, Utah, where Bob spent the next 16 years as academic vice president and provost at Weber State University. For five years, he chaired the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, which accredits all colleges and universities in a seven-state region from Alaska to Nevada.
For 10 years, he co-directed a national leadership institute for chief academic officers of state universities. He was twice sent by the U.S. Information Agency to assist former Soviet bloc countries implement national educational accreditation systems, working in Estonia and Poland. Similar consulting projects took him and Adele to Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Slovakia, Japan and the United Arab Emirates.
But it was being in Lithuania in 1991 during a short-lived Soviet clamp down on Lithuania’s sprouting democracy and independence movement that deeply affected both Bob and Adele. “Thousands of Lithuanian citizens surrounded the Parliament building and the invasion collapsed,” remembered Bob.
While there, Adele counseled Lithuanian women who wanted to start businesses. “They had never heard of advertising,” remembered Adele, who tutored them on the basic tenets of private business ownership and management. This frontline experience of democratic self-expression in action was what motivated Adele to run for city council in Ogden. “That’s why I ran for council,” she said.
Not only did she run, as the first-ever woman and non-Mormon candidate, she was elected and served two terms, one as chair. Adele had previously been membership director for the Ogden-Weber Chamber of Commerce and in recognition of her advocacy on behalf of women in management careers, the mayor and city council declared a day in March 1985 as Adele Smith Day.
Bob’s career-long quest to change the way in which science was taught, to make it more experiential, project-oriented and as fascinating to students as possible, was what he remembers as the high point of his academic career. “It was vitally important to get students out into the world, to see nature in the desert and the mountains, to be part of experiential learning of the first order and train elementary school teachers in this approach,” he stressed.
In each of their careers Bob and Adele were strong advocates for women and minorities. Bob, as provost at Weber State, actively recruited women and minority candidates for faculty positions, and in the process, changed the culture of the university.
Volunteering was a key component of both Bob and Adele’s professional lives. As a community volunteer in Odgen, Bob supported family planning and literacy as treasurer of both Planned Parenthood of Utah and the Treehouse Children’s Museum in Ogden.
As full-time residents of Idyllwild after their retirements, both continued to volunteer — Adele with service on the Idyllwild Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and Bob as vice president, then treasurer, researcher and archive supervisor, with the Idyllwild Area Historical Society, consultant for Idyllwild Arts Foundation’s five-year-plan task force for its Krone Museum and historical architecture adviser for the Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council Shake Roof Replacement Program.
Bob also wrote a regular column for the Town Crier, and published two books about Idyllwild and the San Jacinto region, a journal article and three digital family histories.
“Along the way, I found time to enrich my life through reading widely, cultivating a taste for a wide variety of good music, presiding over a Las Vegas grand jury, dabbling in public radio as a classical disc jockey and program producer, and traveling widely for education and pleasure in the United States, and such less familiar places as Ecuador, Saint Lucia, Hungary and southern Mexico,” noted Bob.
For 45 years an avid jogger, Bob continued as a race walker in the annual Idyllwild 5k/10k Race and Fitness Walk, and hiked the back country of his San Jacinto mountain home, capturing its beauty as a nature photographer.
For both Bob and Adele, it was not just what they accomplished in rich and varied professional careers and volunteer service that is so remarkable. It was their interest, energy and commitment to pushing the boundaries of social structure to expand opportunities for all.
Their Alpen Woods home faces Tahquitz Peak. Bob related that when Adele first saw the house and its relationship to Tahquitz, she knew she had found home. “I hate to leave Idyllwild,” said Adele. “But, at this point, we have to.”