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Saving habitats, keeping faith

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Steve W. Smith is a native of Roswell, born in the year that put this town on the map when the “weather balloon” landed in ‘47.

Steve W. Smith (Submitted Photo)

His family’s background includes owning both Holsum Baking Company and KBIM TV in Roswell, and the Smiths supported the community in many ways.

“The bakery provided summer jobs for me, my three sisters, and my seven cousins from the Reischman family. We were definitely close-knit families,” Smith said. “I graduated from Goddard, then went to ENMU-R for one year before joining the U.S. Army Reserves. Soon thereafter, I moved to the Seattle area, working for a local bakery until becoming a realtor.”

Upon meeting his wife, Kathryn, it was in 1976 that he returned to his roots and joined the family business. When the Smiths sold the bakery, he went on to purchase Century 21 Home Planning and continued to run the company until retiring in 2008.

One of the loveliest places in the area was gifted to this community by the Smiths. The J. Kenneth Smith Bird Sanctuary was a project that turned into a huge success.

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“My father as a youth became an Eagle Scout because he always enjoyed the outdoors,” Smith said. “It was while a scout that he was introduced to the world of birding. In the 1970s, he and a fellow group of bird watchers would spend time in this highly productive area that’s now known as the sanctuary. Because it had all the right habitat, my father and friends were able to observe well over 100 species of birds; and it was especially active during spring and autumn migrations.

“They knew this area as a ‘Bird Trap,’ meaning birds would layover during migrations,” he said. “When a golf course was added to the city on the east side of the area, however, most of the habitat was removed and it was no longer an inviting location for wild birds.”

Smith and his father’s resilience, energy and love for the area did not fade with the disappearing habitat.

“In 2003, we went to the city parks manager and they agreed to rebuild a wild bird sanctuary in the 15-acre site on the north Spring River bed,” he said.

“Joining with my father in this effort, we engaged a wildlife architect to help design the area,” Smith said. “Dad funded the installation of two ponds, creating a wetlands area, and we had 100 trees and 75 bushes of different types brought in — selected specifically for what they would contribute to the habitat. The idea was to recreate a sanctuary for wild birds. Now, 15 years later, it’s all grown up into the amazing J. Kenneth Smith Wild Bird Sanctuary.”

Another organization Smith is a member and avid supporter of is the Roswell Rotary Club, which is actually celebrating its 100-year anniversary in Roswell this year.

An international organization, Rotary numbers thousands of clubs and is involved with helping people around the world.

“A huge program has been to eradicate Polio from the world,” Smith says. “I think there are now only two countries left with active Polio (Afghanistan and Pakistan), and over a billion dollars has been put into this project. Potable water for poor communities all over the world, helping with volunteers and funding for disaster relief … the list goes on and on.

“Made up of caring people from varying business backgrounds,” Smith added, “the group here (Rotarians) has been involved with many projects around town to help children, such as installing playgrounds in parks; not to mention, supporting the zoo by providing a $10,000 grant for trees and fencing last year. The scholarship program awards anywhere from a dozen to 30 $1,000 gifts for first-year college-bound students. They work a great deal on highway clean-up throughout the year, and many volunteer to work on the Habitat for Humanity projects occurring in town (South Washington and Beach Street are two that Humanity membership has worked on in the last 12 months.)”

When it comes to the changes that the pandemic has brought to our lives, Smith spoke about the alterations Rotary made — but the work, and help they provide, has remained solid.

“When it comes to the pandemic, Roswell Rotary now conducts the weekly Thursday meeting electronically. The most difficult aspect is not having the weekly interaction with other members. But hopefully this will end sometime in the future; I think the vaccine will do the trick. It’s important to know that Roswell Rotary is made up of many committees, so there is still strong action going on all the time.

“Our current president, Willis Scharmer, is a strong leader and helps keep the committees focused.”

Looking down the road, Smith states his belief that the future will be bright again.

“The world needs an effective vaccine before things get back to normal,” Smith said. “Everybody just has to be careful to stay well. Personally, I am looking forward to going on a birding trip to Brazil in June. We’ll be headed to an area of the Amazon known as Rio Roosevelt, and the birdlife there is wonderful.”

Smith and his wife are also happy members of Grace Community Church.

“We have been blessed with the many different programs offered at Grace,” he said. “The church is a loving body and offers many directions for its members to help and serve others.”

As someone whose family has been part of this area for many years, Smith passed on these words to the people he’s known all his life: “I’d like to say to the citizens of Roswell to be patient and not to give up. Our society is going through many changes; businesses are struggling to survive, families with school-age children are struggling with education, and everybody is unsure about the future.

“But by keeping faith and supporting one another, I know there is light at the end of this tunnel.”

To learn more about the sanctuary, head to http://www.roswellbirds.org/.