Philip Carlyle Smaby


Smaby, Philip Carlyle Phil Smaby, a loving father, caring friend, unassuming philanthropist, and internationally admired Twin Cities Realtor®, died peacefully on Tuesday, October 21 from recently diagnosed lung cancer. He was surrounded by his children, loved ones, and hospice caregivers at his Friendship Village home overlooking a pond which glistened with blazing fall colors from the glorious afternoon sun. On September 5, Phil proudly celebrated his 90th birthday with the publication of his just-completed memoirs, "Always a Move Ahead". He was preceded in death in 2003 by his beloved wife of 61 years, Margaret. He is dearly missed by the families of his four children: Mark (Joanne), Gary (Nanci), John (Linda), and Anne, all from Minneapolis. Phil was much loved by Margaret's sister, Estelle Knudsen; and his 11 nieces and nephews, 8 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren. Over the last five years, Phil shared a very special relationship with his dear friend, companion and caregiver, Donna Sullivan. He cherished the summer visits from many of Donna's 6 children and 30 grandchildren to his favorite spot on the planet – his cabin on pristine North Star Lake near Marcell, MN. Born in the Norwegian-American community of Peterson, MN, ‘Fip' was the youngest of Nels and Tina Smaby's five children to grow up on the family farm at the edge of town. He fondly recalled travelling through the picturesque Root River Valley by horse-drawn sleigh in the winter. Like his older siblings (Geneva, Bill, Art, and Norris), Phil was a born athlete. He became a high school star in the only sport available in his tiny rural community – basketball. Fortunately, it was a sport that favored his six foot five and a half inch stature. In 1936, he was admitted to St. Olaf College on both athletic and academic scholarships. Despite that assistance and a job, he was unable to scrape together the $400 for room, board and tuition to continue the next year. Phil transferred to the University of Minnesota, where he shared a room with his brother Art who had just started a business career. Although Phil desired to go to medical school, his limited resources led him to major in business administration; a choice he never regretted. He joined the Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity, where he formed many life-long friendships, including his most endearing one to a young and beautiful art student, Margaret Hagen. After graduation in 1941, Phil was offered two good jobs but with war imminent, he decided to sign on to the Navy Air Corps waitlist. While waiting to clear the list, he took a trip to LA to visit a fraternity brother. On that trip, he stumbled onto a draft-deferred job at Douglas Aircraft that was a perfect fit with his business degree. The next year Phil convinced his dearest Margaret to join him in Long Beach and the couple was married on August 1. When job deferments were cancelled in 1943, Phil finally did join the Navy Air Corps. His stellar job performance at Douglas helped him land a plum accounting post at Pan Am Airways in San Francisco. After Phil's release from the Navy in May 1946, the couple returned to Minneapolis with their first child Mark to start a new life and a new career in the field that became his life's work. Phil and his partner Ben Bermel co-founded Bermel- Smaby Realty in 1946. By 1984, Bermel-Smaby had become Minneapolis' largest real estate firm with 17 offices and over 350 sales associates. While he enjoyed his business success, he was most proud of his 51 years of dedicated service to the real estate industry. Phil served with distinction as president of every major organization in his trade, including the Boards of Realtors of both Minneapolis ('57) and Minnesota ('64) as well as the National Association of Realtors NAR (‘76) and International Federation of Real Estate (FIABCI) ('80). His 42 year term of service as the only lifetime member of the powerful NAR Executive Committee continued until his death. From humble beginnings, Bermel- Smaby became the industry's ethical gold standard; admired for the simple principles it espoused: Ethics are number one; Don't prejudge - treat everyone the same; Train employees well; Get involved in the community. Phil embodied these principles throughout his long and vital life. Phil was always actively involved in his own community. His family fondly recalled him selling Christmas Trees with his Metro Ys Men's Club, serving as the 1960 Minneapolis Aquatennial Commodore, and judging the Winter Frolics skating races at Lynnhurst Park. Ever the entrepreneur, Phil, in 1983 at age 65, led a handful of fellow retirees on the lake to pool their modest funds to bootstrap a prototype of new snow vehicle invented by a lake neighbor. The hunch eventually paid off. The fledging business quickly outgrew tiny Marcell. In 1994, ASV went public and was one of the best-performing local stocks in the 90s. Phil served as ASV's board chair from 1985 to 2003. When ASV was acquired in January 2008, it was recognized as one of America's fastest growing companies. While Phil enjoyed the thrill of meeting kings, queens and every US president since Eisenhower, he found equal joy just sitting in his bib overalls chatting with any passerby. Always committed to giving back, Phil and Margaret founded the Smaby Family Foundation in 1997 to advance their philanthropic passion to strengthen families and communities by promoting affordable home ownership and by fostering creativity and literacy in education, arts, and science, particularly among disadvantaged youth within immigrant populations. A celebration of Phil Smaby's remarkable life will be held at Wooddale Church, 6630 Shady Oak Road, Eden Prairie at 11:00 AM on Wednesday, October 29. A lunch will follow the service. The family will greet friends starting at 10AM. The family requests no flowers. Memorials are preferred to the Philip C. Smaby Torske Klubben Peace Scholar Fund at the University of Minnesota Foundation. Gifts can be made online at or by calling (800) 775-2187.
This obituary was originally published in the Star Tribune.

Guest Book

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February 17, 2009
To Mark, Gary, John and Anne,

I was going through a box of memorabilia and found a Christmas card from your family. This led to a web search. I was saddened to learn of the passing of both Phil and Margaret. I doubt that you would remember me. Your parents were gracious hosts when I stayed with your family while attending Gale Institute in 1957. Please accept my sympathy for your losses. Also best wishes for health and happiness in the future.

In Peterson we shall never forget Phillips speech at the All Class Reunion in 2005 when he spoke of his brother, Norris, and his athletic abilities.

To Anne and family, I am very sorry for the loss of your dad. He obviously lived a very fulfilling meaningfull life. My thoughts are with you at this time. Treasure the memories!

I don't know if you remember me, as I only had a brief tie, through BAA, many years ago. However, I want to give you my condolences about your grandpa. I read the article about him, and he sounds like he truly lived life to the fullest. May the memories lessen your sadness.
Laurie Syverson

It was in 1979 when Mr. Smaby stopped in the small town of Moose Lake, Minnesota at an ice cream shop called the Treat Shoppe where I worked. I was 16 years old. I remember that evening when I was cleaning up, I found a wallet. Of course, I opened to wallet to see who it belonged to and it belonged to Mr. Smaby. I set the wallet aside until the next morning when my boss came in (which happened to be my aunt) and gave her the wallet and told her that I had found it the night before in our...

As a young person right out of high school I had the pleasure of working for Phil Smaby. During my many tasks I had the pleasure to get to him both at the Lyndale office and at his home. He was a very geniune and honest man. My thoughts and prayers go out to the family.

Real Estate Speaking and Time at THE LAKE

Phil Smaby was the first to encourage me to learn how to be a speaker and a part of National real estate. Back in 1977, I was confident, but looking at the pictures, anyone could wonder...can this be?

Phil encouraged me, and was mentor to many others who got involved in organized real estate. He gave,and gave, and gave. His "dozen" group of leading brokers read like a who's who of real estate back in the day. He was a founder and an anchor of the best days of real...

My thoughts are with you as you go through these most difficult days.

To the family of Philip Smaby:

Please accept our sympathy for your loss. It was an honor to be with Philip during his final days. May your memories bring you comfort.

The Fairview Hospice Team