DeKALB – Former DeKalb teacher, Rhea Smith, died July 28, 2012, at Oak Crest DeKalb Area Retirement Center in DeKalb,Ill., after a long and rewarding life. Read More
Born Dec. 31, 1920, in Saugatuck, Mich., the daughter of Russell and Verna (Allen) Valleau, she grew up amid the excitement of life in a resort hotel that was owned and run by her maternal grandmother. At the hotel, guests had to be kept comfortable and amused; therefore careful organization and hard work behind the scenes was critical. Her years of working with her grandmother gave her an appreciation for the great variety of characters who passed through the resort, some of whom were quite "colorful." She developed an ability to meet and enjoy people of all kinds, a love of entertaining, and the expertise to plan and carry out memorable celebrations.
Rhea attended Michigan State University and graduated in January 1943 from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo with a degree in elementary education. She completed the work for her master's degree in 1968 at Northern Illinois University. She taught in Michigan, New York, Ohio, and then for 20 years in the DeKalb school system, primarily at the kindergarten level. Rhea truly enjoyed her kindergarteners, and was known for innovative hands-on activities, hoping to introduce her students to the wonder of discovery and to help them find enjoyment in their learning and build friendships with others. Many of her former pupils recall how Rhea's enthusiasm helped them start their own journey to lifelong learning.
While committed to another, Rhea attended a Thanksgiving dance in 1943 with her brother, Allen, at the Rantoul, Ill., airbase, and met the engaging and handsome Hal Smith. After a worried conversation with her mother, she agreed to write to Hal, who was stationed in Italy as a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps. They were married in Saugatuck on Oct. 20, 1945.
For the two years between June 1964 and June 1966, Rhea, Hal and their family lived in Bangkok where Hal had a Fulbright teaching and research fellowship. Rhea studied the Thai language, entertained American and Thai friends, served on the Fulbright Selection Committee, taught English to Thai students and was a fourth-grade teacher at International School-Bangkok during their second year. When Hal received a second Fulbright grant in 1975, Rhea applied for and received a sabbatical year from the DeKalb School District, during which time she conducted research on kindergarten practices in Thailand.
After Rhea retired from teaching, she and Hal continued their interest in foreign travel, bought a summer house on a lake in Wisconsin, played bridge with a group of longtime friends, and enjoyed their children and grandchildren.
Rhea had been a member of the First Congregational Church for more than 50 years and also was a longtime member of Thursday Arts and Delta Kappa Gamma.
Rhea has left a legacy to her family of high standards, a focus on lifelong learning, an interest in the wider world, a concern for others, and support for family and friends in times of need. She set an example of a healthy, busy, diverse and satisfying life.
Rhea is survived by daughter, Gayla (Edward) Nieminen; sons, Curtis (Sally) Smith and Nicholas (Nichole) Smith; honorary son, Argyrios (Denise) Arambadjis; honorary daughter, Susan (John) Kirk; grandchildren, Margot (Kevin) Sondgeroth, Rachel (Brent) Wheeler, Erica Smith, Magdalena (Colin) Hobbs, Evan Smith, Yorgos and Evangalis Arambadjis and Kyle Bothe; as well as great-grandchildren, Sarah, Evan and Eli Sondgeroth, Zayd, Gavyn and Azara Wheeler, Lilliana Smith and Vladimir Voytasovich, and Xavier Barriss and Maverick Hobbs.
The memorial service will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 2, in the Vista Room at Oak Crest, DeKalb. Memorial gifts can be made to First Congregational Church of DeKalb or Delta Kappa Gamma Recruitment Grants Foundation.
Arrangements were entrusted to Ronan-Moore-Finch Funeral Home, 310 Oak St., DeKalb, IL 60115. To send an online condolence, visit www.RonanMooreFinch.com; 815-758-3841.