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In memoriam: Gene Smith, father of Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site

       Gene Smith, a 32-year City Parks administrator who is credited with leading the evolution of the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site, passed away Nov. 27 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
       He was 62.
       He had left the city in 2009 under an early-retirement opportunity that arose because of its tight budget at that time. A year later, he moved to Puerto Vallarta and took up painting, according to one of his brothers, Terry Smith. But Gene had
A few weeks before his retirement from the city in June 2009, Gene Smith posed for a photo in what had been his office in a room in the Orchard House at the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site. In an accompanying interview with the Westside Pioneer, he noted that he had always kept his papers discreetly hidden inside a rolltop desk so as not to distract from guided tours of the historic house.
Westside Pioneer file photo
liver problems, and complications with his treatment led to a death that was “pretty sudden,” Terry said in a phone interview.
       No local service is scheduled, but a memorial event for Gene at Rock Ledge Ranch is being planned this spring (date not yet announced), according to ranch manager Andy Morris.
       “I will always be grateful to Gene Smith for giving me the opportunity to live, work and raise my family at Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site,” Morris said in an e-mail to the Westside Pioneer. “He has been my supervisor, my mentor and my friend. I, along with many others, will miss him greatly.”
       Gene was born Jan 26, 1952, in Seattle, Washington. His parents, Irving and Joan Smith, have passed on, and he never married. However, he is survived by his four younger brothers, who still live in the Pacific Northwest. They are, from oldest to youngest, Howard, Terry, Craig and Irving.
       The family plans a service for Gene in mid-January, probably in the area of Olympia, Washington, with details to be finalized, Terry Smith said.
       He pointed out that their father Irving had worked for the U.S. Forest Service, so a lot of the boys' upbringing occurred in various “small mountain towns in the Northwest.”
       Gene graduated from a high school about 30 miles from Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. He later graduated from the University of Oregon.
       A Pioneer interview with Smith just before his retirement took effect in June 2009, which resulted in a two-part article, touched on the start of his work at Rock Ledge (then called White House Ranch). The following two paragraphs are from Part 1:
       “Almost straight out of college with an environmental education degree in 1977, Smith was initially hired by City Parks as a recreational leader. After about a month, City Parks Recreation Superintendent Nancy Lewis (who later became the department's director), 'called me in,' Smith recalled. 'She had this project she wanted me to look at, at a place called White House Ranch.'
       "His first reaction? 'I thought "Wow, great," because my degree was in environmental education, and so she handed me the keys and I walked around by myself and I thought this was quite the place.' "
       Reminiscing about his brother, Terry Smith said, “Gene was the oldest, the one we looked up to. One of his characteristics was the ability to communicate.” In that regard, he remembered that as a high-schooler Gene had won major statewide speech awards in both Oregon and Washington.
       “He had the ability to tell stories. He also had writing abilities. You see that threaded through his work,” Terry said. “But he would tell the truth. He wasn't always politically correct.”
       Terry added that his brother maintained“very strong” relations with his family and friends throughout his life, and “he loved his work. He was passionate about his profession.”
       Terry himself visited Rock Ledge several times when Gene was working there, he said. He expects to come back in the spring for the memorial at the ranch, and he thinks one or more of his brothers will come too.
       Melissa Walker, a long-time area naturalist, former City Parks employee and current president of the Friends of Garden of the Gods (FOGG), worked at different times with Gene Smith. “I am surprised and very saddened by the news of his death,” she wrote in an e-mail, describing him as “an inspiring friend and colleague [who] made such a positive difference in Colorado Springs.”
       She also praised Gene as “key to the establishment of Rock Ledge Ranch as a living history city park and its eventual listing on the National Register of Historic Places.”
       In additional comments, Morris said of Smith, “What you see today at Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site is his legacy. Through the years, it was Gene's dedication, imagination, hard work and stubbornness that made RLRHS one of the premiere living history sites in the West and perhaps in the country.
       “Gene was a 'big view' guy who could come up with some very creative ideas and he also liked it when others came up with something new. As long as it benefitted the ranch that he loved and was true to living history, he was all for it. He was very humble and always gave others credit - even when he should have received praise himself.”
       In closing comments in Part 2 of hisPioneer interview in June 2009, Smith expressed concern about the tight financial circumstances of those times, which would almost result in the ranch being closed. “'Hopefully, we'll survive this present situation where the quality-of-life aspects of our city are in peril,' he said. 'Fortunately the program at Rock Ledge has survived this round [of budget cuts] and I would think it would continue to do so, because it's an investment not just from a programmatic standpoint but in terms of preserving the heritage of the people of the Pikes Peak region. And you can truly lose yourself in the history of Colorado Springs there.'”

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 12/10/14; Community: In Memoriam)

       Editor's note: Here are the links to the June 2009 Pioneer articles on Gene Smith: Part 1 and Part 2.

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