After graduating from college, Granville “Granny” Smith’s first teaching job was at St. Paul Park High School in Washington County.
It would be the only teaching position of his four-decade career in education.
Smith began teaching there in the fall 1945, retiring from full-time teaching in 1983. He continued to serve as a substitute teacher at the school until 1990.
“He started at what was a small, rural high school,” said former Park student and teacher Bill Kroschel. “It grew, and the school moved from St. Paul Park to neighboring Cottage Grove in 1965. Then in the 1970s, the district opened a new high school in Woodbury.
“Teachers had the option of going to the new school. Granny could have gone to Woodbury, but he loved it at Park and stayed.”
Smith, of Cottage Grove, died July 9. He was 98.
In addition to teaching history at Park, Smith also had a Hall of Fame career as the school’s baseball coach.
Over 32 seasons at Park, his baseball teams compiled a 328-133 record (.711 winning percentage) and won 14 conference championships. His teams finished first or second in their conference 25 of his 32 seasons.
When he retired as baseball coach in 1978, he was the third-winningest high school baseball coach in the state.
In 1975, Smith told the Minneapolis Tribune that his main goal each season was “to let the kids know I’m interested in them as a person.”
“He was way ahead of his time,” said Kroschel, who played for Smith. “He developed a feeder program before other coaches did. And he got a lot of good players from that program.”
Kroschel said another thing that set Smith apart was that “he had to be one of the first coaches to have his kids go to clinics.”
“And, if it was a rainy day and he couldn’t practice, he had the team in the classroom working on something,” Kroschel said. “They were always learning something.”
St. Paul Saints pitching coach Kerry Ligtenberg, who graduated from Park before playing eight years in the major leagues, didn’t play for Smith, but got to know him when he coached the Park team for two seasons.
“Granny would come out,” said Ligtenberg. “He was very supportive of Park baseball. We would talk about how the game and athletes had changed. It was nice to talk to him. He had been around for so long.”
Smith is a member of four Halls of Fame — the Hamline Athletic Hall of Fame, the Park High School Hall of Fame, the Minnesota State High School League Hall of Fame and the Minnesota High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
“Granny is a Park legend,” said Phil Kuemmel, Park’s assistant principal for activities. “I feel so fortunate to have gotten to know him and call him a friend. He was one of a kind, and a true Hall of Famer in every aspect of his life.”
Smith was born on July 18, 1921, in St. Paul, the second of three sons of Robert and Edith Smith. He grew up on the North End of St. Paul and graduated from St. Paul Washington High School.
After one year of college, Smith enlisted in the Army Air Corps in September 1942. After his service, he graduated from Hamline University in St. Paul in 1945. He played baseball at Hamline and was the first Hamline graduate to make use of the G.I. Bill.
Smith is survived by his wife, Janet; a daughter, Robin; two sons, Craig and Brad, and five grandchildren.
A celebration of his life will be held at a later date.