Sammie Smith, 89, passed away peacefully Oct. 19, 2021, at home, with the love of his life, Jolita Allene Smith, standing by his side.
Sammie was born June 3, 1932, to the union of Rueben Smith and Idella (Brooks) Smith. Sammie was born in Helena, Ark., and spent some of his early life in St. Louis.
At about 8 years old, he moved to Benton Harbor and attended Bard Elementary School, Benton Harbor Junior High and Benton Harbor High School, graduating in June 1951.
Shortly after graduation, he joined the United States Air Force, where he became a certified airplane mechanic. He was honorably discharged from the Air Force on June 6, 1960.
In 1958, he married the queen of his heart, Allene Whitfield. To this union three children, Jolita Darlene, Leontyne Collene and Christopher Michael (who died at birth), were born.
Sammie attended Lake Michigan College, where he received an associate degree in mathematics. He was employed at Wilder's Drug store, I&M and proudly served for 30-plus years as the first African American director of the Benton Harbor and Benton Township Housing Commission. Sammie served as the president of the Michigan Chapter of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO). He served on the board of the Regional Chapter of NAHRO and on the National Housing Committee.
He was the recipient of national awards for his work in public housing. He was the recipient of the Charles Thompson Award, which is the highest award given by the Michigan Chapter of NAHRO. Upon his retirement, and because of his professional contribution, the family investment center on Martin Luther King Drive was named The Sammie Smith Family Investment Center in his honor.
Sammie loved to fish, camp and was an avid golfer. He traveled around the country participating in many golf tournaments. He was a member of various social clubs in Benton Harbor, including The Insets, 18 Club, The Old Timers Club and was the commander of American Legion Post 410. Sammie was a long-standing member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Benton Harbor.
He leaves to cherish his memory his wife of 64 years, Jolita Allene; two daughters, Jolita (Maurice) Burton of Benton Harbor; Leontyne (James) Hines of Jackson, Mich.; a bonus daughter, Charase (Alvin) Dorsey of Benton Harbor; four grandchildren, Imyn Burton, Marcellus (Shakina) Burton, Joseph Hines and Alyse Hines; three bonus grandchildren, Michael Hawkins, Ashley Dorsey and Kellie Dorsey; 13 more bonus grandchildren; three great-grandchildren, Marcellus Jr., Malia and Jesse Burton; and a host of nieces, nephews and friends. It's significantly noted that he was considered a community granddad to a host of other grandsons and daughters.
A celebration of homegoing service will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, at First Presbyterian Church, 475 Green St., Benton Harbor, with the Rev. Scott Paul-Bonham officiating. Private burial with full military honors will take place at Fort Custer National Cemetery in Augusta, Mich. Friends can visit with the family from 10-11 a.m. Saturday at the church.
Memorial donations in Sammie's name can be made to Caring Circle Hospice in St. Joseph.
To sign Sammie's memory book online, visit www.starks-menchinger.com.