Columbia Heights' Humanitarian of the Year says he's "always been busy in the community " or a "busybody."
Stephen Smith of Columbia Heights likes to fix all kinds of things, "except boxing matches and horse races."
His passion for tackling everything from broken appliances to community problems recently earned him recognition as the Columbia Heights Humanitarian of the Year. The city has given the award since 1976 to someone who goes out of his or her way to help others.
Smith, 65, whose professional background is in building management, has a lot on his résumé: He chairs the city's charter commission and sits on the Columbia Heights Library Board; he's on the Immaculate Conception Church Parish Council, is a trustee at the church and is active with its maintenance committee and Meals on Wheels team; and he volunteers with East Side Neighborhood Services, a human services agency in Minneapolis.
Smith says he enjoys having a busy schedule. "It energizes me. I get in a meeting and I get fired up," he said, adding that he's just hoping to make more time for fly-fishing, a favorite hobby that he hasn't been able to do since he retired late last year.
Smith jokes that he's unsure whether he's "always been busy in the community," or a "busybody."
It was his experience at his daughter's school in 1978, with its Gifted and Talented Parents Organization, that spurred his volunteerism, he said. From there, he wound up on a bunch of other community groups, including the Columbia Heights school board.
One thing he notes is that "I've never been on a committee of one. There are a lot of good people to work with and we all believe in giving back with what skills we have."
Whether it's a budgetary wrinkle or a building improvement, he sees his role as "bringing order to chaos," he said. "I recognize things other people don't see. I bring fresh eyes."
Also, he thrives on healthy debate, and public speaking doesn't scare him. In fact, he's more comfortable onstage than off at events, thanks in part to his 15 years with the Christopher Toastmasters Club in Columbia Heights, he said.
Sharon Shedlov, who won the humanitarian award jointly with her husband, Cliff, in 2008, nominated Smith for the honor.
She said that at Immaculate Conception Church, one of the places where she knows Smith, he's been instrumental in leading the cause for a new roof.
The church had only six weeks to raise $74,000 for the project. "He's not pushy or demanding and we raised it, and I'm sure a lot of it was due to him," she said.
Likewise, he's taken on a lot of the Meals on Wheels routes. At church and elsewhere, "Everywhere we go we see Steve Smith helping somebody," she said.
Columbia Heights Public Library Director Becky Loader, who has served on many volunteer committees with Smith, agrees. He's organized and approachable, she said.
Whatever the issue, "He does his homework and gets the facts," and he supports a group's decision, no matter what. "He's the kind of person you want representing you in the community," she said, adding, "He's not in it for the glory."
Indeed, Smith has an almost aw-shucks view of his honor. "The award says maybe I made a difference in someone's life," he said.
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer.