By Con Marshall
|Mike Smith kept close ties with Chadron friends|
A 1953 Chadron High School graduate who miraculously survived a horrific automobile accident the following year while he was attending Chadron State College and became a noted journalist died Monday, Sept. 9 at age 84 in the Coon Rapids, Minn., hospital.
A celebration of life for Mike Smith will be at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21 at the Kolzak Funeral Home in Blaine, Minn. A cousin who is a retired Jesuit priest will conduct the services. Inurnment will take place next June at the Calvary Cemetery in Chadron, a family member said.
The auto accident occurred 65 years ago, a few hours after Chadron sports fans had listened to the first radio broadcast of a Chadron State football game when the Eagles played South Dakota Tech in Rapid City at night some four months after KCSR Radio had gone on the air.
Both Frank Clark, who was the play-by-play announcer, and Smith, who had been the spotter, were sophomores at Chadron State. En route home from the game, they missed the turn in Custer south to Hot Springs and Chadron and wound up in Newcastle, Wyo.
After getting their bearings, they traveled to Lusk to connect with Highway 20. In the wee hours of the morning, Clark fell asleep at the wheel of his 1949 Studebaker, which rammed into a bridge between Crawford and Whitney.
A bridge railing split as it penetrated the front of the vehicle. The upper portion went through Smith’s upper leg and left side, and even into the trunk, pinning him in the passenger seat. Clark tried to both attend to Smith and flag down the few vehicles that were on highway, but it was still quite dark and the car had gone into the ditch and into a pasture about 50 yards, according to the patrolman’s report, before coming to a stop.
About 45 minutes after the accident had occurred, help arrived. The Chadron Record story said Dr. Leo Hoevet and the Chadron Rescue Unit headed by Paul Thein and Alden Rasmussen sped to the scene. Crawford authorities also were alerted and Dr. Ben Bishop brought blood plasma.
The first problem was how to get Smith out of the car. Someone raced to the Ross Drinkwalter farm about a half mile away and borrowed a saw. Smith, who remained conscious during the ordeal, was in pain, but not unbearably so, he said years later, believed Rasmussen did the sawing, both in front of Smith and behind the seat. It was about 7 o’clock when he was removed from the car, placed in an ambulance, given a blood transfusion and rushed to the Chadron Hospital.
While Smith had part of his hip bone sheared off, a cracked lower vertebra and a ruptured spleen, no vital organs or arteries were hit. Dr. Hoevet removed the chunk of creosote timber, apparently with the aid of Betty Thompson, a surgical nurse.
|Frank Clark and Mike Smith re-unite in Chadron - 2002|
Smith remained hospitalized several weeks, with updates of his condition reported frequently by KCSR and the Record. Years later, he recalled being well enough to attend one of Chadron State’s late-season football games and was introduced to the Elliott Field crowd.
Sometime that fall, Smith said he also went to a dance at the college and sat at a table where Clark, who had remained in close contact with Smith during his recovery, and his date, JoAnn Dollison, were seated. Dollison, a native of David City, Neb., also was attending Chadron State.
“Frank introduced Jo and I and we had a pleasant visit,” Smith said. “I certainly didn’t dance that evening, but I did take a shine to Frank’s date. We were married a couple years later when I was attending Fresno State.
”Smith said he also took over Clark’s job as sports director at KCSR after Clark transferred to Iowa State in the fall of 1955 to earn a degree in communications. Clark later spent 20 years in the Navy, much of it as an officer on submarines.
After both left Chadron, the men had little contact until the 1990s, when they renewed their friendship, visited each other’s homes and began exchanging e-mails.
Sports reporting became Smith’s ticket to success. After graduating from Fresno State and with the encouragement of Maurice Van Kirk, publisher of the Chadron Record during the 1950s and then the editor of the Scottsbluff Star-Herald, Smith joined that newspaper as a sportswriter. He also wrote sports for about three years at the North Platte Telegraph, and worked seven years at the Omaha World-Herald, some of them as the Nebraska editor, before moving to the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 1967.
During much of the 1970s, Smith was the Star Tribune’s sports editor during the era when Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva and Rod Carew were starring for the Twins and Fran Tarkington and the Purple People Eaters were leading the Vikings to the Super Bowl.
Smith also was that newspaper’s Sunday magazine editor before retiring and he and Jo moved to Arizona in 1991.
He was an athlete. He played basketball at Chadron High and was a member of the Chadron American Legion baseball team and the Elks’ town team in its latter years.
The Smiths never lost contact with Chadron. Several summers during the early 2000s, they avoided the Arizona heat for a few weeks by living in the High Rise at Chadron State and “stuffing envelopes for the CSC Alumni Office,” in Jo’s words.
Smith also faithfully attended Chadron High Class of 1953 reunions, including the 65th in the fall of 2018. Classmates and other friends remember him as being “a happy-go-lucky, life-of-the-party” type who despite his successes, never took himself too seriously.
During a 2002 interview when both he and Clark returned for the Chadron State homecoming, both called Smith’s survival “a miracle.” He credited Chadron firemen and Dr. Hoevet “for doing everything perfect” during the rescue and ensuing surgery.
Because four of their six children live in the Minneapolis area, the Smiths moved back there about 10 years ago. There are 12 grandchildren.