As the golden sun is setting

near Port Townsend in the West,

The boys at Fort Flagler admire

the beauty and the rest,

Far into the East with the mountains

high up in the light blue sky,

While the golden sun is setting beyond

the light blue horizon in the sky,

So boys don’t worry as you watch the ships coming through Puget Sound,

Because there will always be days like this and never a more beautiful place to be found.

 

L

owell V. Smith penned this poem as an Army soldier during World War II.

He was viewing a beautiful sunset over Puget Sound in western Washington State as he awaited orders for his next mission.

An engineer with the 253rd Engineer Combat Battalion, Smith operated equipment that detected enemy planes and ships. For 11 months during the war, he served in the European Theater, operating a portable power plant.

But now his assignment was to travel overseas from the West Coast. “We took off from every place,” Smith said in an interview last week.

He said he became inspired to write that poem, entitled “Sunset in the West,” to remember the scene. He and his comrades were awaiting orders for departure through Puget Sound.

Smith, a longtime Arkansas City resident, celebrated his 100th birthday Saturday at the Presbyterian Manor. He was born in Indiana to a farm couple, Elmer and Goldie Warfield Smith, on Jan. 9, 1921.

He recalled his travels during wartime, as a salesman after the war, and in his retirement years, after the death of his wife, with travel companion JoAnn Newman.

“I wasn’t scared of anything then, but I’ve been through some scary times,” Smith said, referring to his World War II experiences. “I traveled in a submarine across the ocean.”

All total, Smith’s active service in the Army extended from November 1942 until April 1946. He served 3 1/2 years during the war and another year in the army of occupation in Germany.

He traveled throughout the world during the war, sometimes in perilous circumstances. Despite the danger, he loved the adventure of seeing new places, and his wartime travel experiences spurred on a desire to see more.

“He told me that ever since his military traveling and seeing other places during World War II, he has wanted to travel all the more,” said Sheila Riedl, Presbyterian Manor accounting assistant.

Riedl assisted Smith during the speaker-phone interview. She noted that he had just celebrated with his neighbors on the floor where he lives at the manor. “There was a cake, balloons, flowers and tons of cards,” she said.

In the manor’s lobby were displayed a typewritten chronology of Smith’s travels and a copy of the poem he wrote as a young soldier.

Otis Morrow, Smith’s attorney and friend, drew up the chronology from Smith’s meticulously kept notes of all the places he had been, including the cost of each trip down to the penny.

“I feel great, but there ain’t much I can do about it at my age,” Smith said in response to a question about reaching 100.

He hasn’t just remained in his room since moving to the manor in July 2010, Riedl said. 

“He goes outside raking leaves, tending a garden of flowers and rose bushes, walking, bird-watching, and seeing deer crossing the road,” she said. “That’s one of his keys to living to 100; he’s gone out and been active.”

Smith agreed, and said his advice to young people today is, “Go out and do everything you can. You only live once.” 

 

Harrowing sight on 9/11

Riedl noted that Smith’s scary travel experiences did not end after the war.

Years later as a retiree, Smith experienced what was for him one of the most harrowing travel experiences ever — wartime included. He and his travel companion JoAnn Newman were on an excursion that took them to New York City in September 2001.

They toured the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on Sept. 10 of that year. Their group was taken to the roof of one of the Twin Towers for stunning views of the city.

That night the group stayed in a hotel in New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York. As they prepared to leave for Boston the next day, they looked across the river to the east on a blue-sky morning. The sky was a backdrop for a horrible scene — a cloud of smoke and fire billowing from the top of one of the Twin Towers.

“They had been up on the roof together just the day before,” said Anita Judd-Jenkins, former guide for Home National Bank Heritage Club tours. “They called me immediately after they returned home, it was not one of our tours.“

JoAnn Scott Newman became Smith’s travel companion in 1997 after the two of them met on a previous trip to Las Vegas that Judd-Jenkins led.

“Every day we put together different activities, and one day I led a group to Bally’s car museum on the sixth floor,” she said. “JoAnn and a girlfriend and Lowell were on the tour. I was taking pictures, and took a picture of JoAnn and him sitting in a car in the museum. From that day on they started seeing each other.”

Both JoAnn and Lowell had lost their spouses in 1996.

That year, JoAnn lost her second husband, Earl G. Newman, principal owner of Newman Dry Goods. She had married Newman after the death of her first husband, William S. Scott, former academic dean of Cowley College. Scott died in 1991.

Also in 1996, Lowell lost his wife of more than 44 years, Dorothy Rather Smith.

JoAnn and Lowell traveled together for 15 years, starting in 1997. They usually took several tours each year. They went by planes, trains, automobiles, ships and buses throughout the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, the Panama Canal, Austria, Switzerland and Germany.

“Lowell should be an inspiration to all of us as we grow older,” Morrow wrote in his chronology of Smith’s travels. “At the young age of 76, he and his travel companion JoAnn Newman commenced their exploration of the globe.”

A summary of the trips they took over those 15 years appears below.

 

Lowell’s working years

Smith returned to Indiana after the war and met an elementary school teacher in his hometown of Rushville. She was Dorothy Rather, who grew up in Arkansas City, graduated from ACHS in 1933, and went on to earn college and graduate  degrees. She did post-graduate studies in voice and piano.

The couple were married in 1952 in Ark City. After the wedding, they moved back to Indiana where Dorothy continued working as a teacher, and Lowell worked as a traveling salesman for the Fuller Brush Company.

“Dorothy’s (family in Ark City) ran a restaurant right next to the old telephone office,” Smith recalled.

The couple returned to Arkansas City in 1954, where they made their home until Lowell’s retirement as a salesman. Dorothy taught music in Ark City schools until 1962.

“I went all over India as a field manager for Fuller Brush,” Smith said. “I also sold cars, anything I can get I can sell.”

For many years Lowell worked for Oklahoma Tire and Supply as an appliance salesman, starting at its location in the 300 block of South Summit. He retired from OTASCO in 1983, and the couple moved to Kaw City, Oklahoma.

During his retirement in Oklahoma, Smith was honored by the Kay County Sheriff for saving a drowning girl’s life. A letter to Smith from the sheriff documents the event. A copy of the letter was provided by Riedl.

“It is indeed a pleasure to write this letter of appreciation for you and for your actions at the Pioneer Marina on Kaw Lake on February 8, 1987,”  Sheriff Richard D. Stickney wrote.

Stickney said that the young girl was playing on a piece of styrofoam on the lake when a gust of wind blew the styrofoam and the girl about 200 yards from shore. The force of the wind flipped the girl off the styrofoam into the cold lake.

When Smith became aware that the girl was in danger, he got his boat from storage and proceeded to the marina. There, two others joined him in the boat and they were able to reach the girl and rescue her.

“As a result of your immediate response … a tragedy was averted,” the sheriff wrote. “Without your actions … this girl would have drowned.”

Smith moved back to Ark City after his wife died in 1996.

 

Travels with JoAnn

Lowell Smith and JoAnn Newman enjoyed many cultural events during their travels together. They set out to visit every state in the United States, but they also traveled overseas to several foreign countries.

Their first trip began in late December 1997, when they traveled to California to ring in the New Year. On New Year’s Day 1998, they attended the Rose Bowl Parade. Later in 1998, they heard a concert of the Tulsa Philharmonic featuring singer-actress Bernadette Peters. They also traveled to Branson to hear the Lawrence Welk Orchestra with Shoji Tabuchi.

In 1999, they returned to Branson to attend another Lawrence Welk Orchestra performance featuring the Lennon Sisters. Earlier that year, they traveled to Hawaii by cruise liner.

Another busy year of travels in 2000 included tours of the Panama Canal; Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; and Nashville, Tennessee. In 2002, they toured the Caribbean and ended that year with a third visit to Branson to hear Andy Williams and the Lawrence Welk Orchestra.

In 2003, the traveling pair visited the Grand Canyon, Lake Tahoe, Reno, and Las Vegas, Nevada. They also attended a concert by the Glenn Miller Orchestra in Ponca City. In 2004, they took a cruise from California down to Mexico and Catalina Island. The following year they returned to Hawaii and then traveled across the country to Washington, D.C. They wound up the year cruising in the Caribbean.

Their cross-country journeys included a 2006 adventure by train tracing the Lewis and Clark trail, from Billings, Montana, to the West Coast. The trip was sponsored by the Heritage Club, spearheaded by Judd-Jenkins. Another cross-country tour in 2007 took them east, to Cape Cod and Vermont.

The year 2007 was yet another busy one for the travelers. They cruised to Mexico, with port stops in Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas. Later, they traveled to Las Vegas. The following year, 2008, another Heritage Club tour took them to a Ten Tenors concert in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and later they trekked to Utah’s Red Rock Country with stops in Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon. 

In 2009, the travelers took the Amtrak passenger train to trace Route 66, from Oklahoma City to Santa Monica, California. Two years later, in 2011, Lowell, then 90, and JoAnn once again visited Branson to experience a Miracle of Christmas show, festival of lights, and other holiday events.

In 2012, they again joined the Heritage Club tour group for what was to be their last journey together. They toured Austria, Switzerland and Germany.

The end of their travels together came several years before JoAnn died, in November 2020.

Smith said he enjoyed all his travels and has no particular favorite trip.

“They were great,” he said. “All of these programs were outstanding.”

But now he is content to stay where he is and to enjoy his memories of the places he’s been and the travel companions who joined him. His notebook detailing all those trips remind him of them all.

“JoAnn and I shared many moments,” he said. “I have a world picture. My entertainment has always been through this.

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