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Teacher's career is history

Alissa Widman Neese • Jun 4, 2014 at 2:00 PM


To longtime history teacher Bill Smith, textbooks are merely a skeleton.

It’s an educator’s job, Bill explains, to inject the life into its dreary contents.

“I don’t teach from the textbook, I teach lessons,” he said. “History isn’t memorizing facts.”

Bill’s unconventional classroom echoes the motto.

Its shelves are stocked with assorted relics. Its walls are covered in murals. A shoebox houses a Native American skull discovered during an archaeological dig, and frames display dusty, dated newspapers.

Students donated many of the historic artifacts as part of a project in the 1980s to create a “living museum” at St. Joseph Central Catholic High School.

These days, however, the museum’s walls appear barren, as Bill has given away most of its contents to his beloved students this past month.

After more than half a century of teaching, Bill bid his classroom farewell Tuesday.

The renowned educator retired with 51 years of experience, all at St. Joseph Central Catholic High School, his alma mater.

To celebrate the likely unprecedented accomplishment, the school’s staff and students hosted a surprise assembly in the school gymnasium Monday.

Bill’s wife, Jackee Smith, daughter Heather Smith and sister, Pat Bonnigson, attended the special occasion, too.

During the ceremony, principal Tim Cullen, one of Bill’s former students, commended his years of service. He estimated Bill taught more than 4,400 students spanning three generations during his time at the school.

A handful of them presented Bill with a basket of cards, from both past and present students.

City economic development director Joseph Smith read a proclamation from Mayor Jim Ellis declaring Tuesday “Bill Smith Day” in Fremont. Cullen also read a resolution from Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, honoring Bill and informing him a flag will fly at the state capitol building in his name.

Bill then addressed and thanked his students, offering them a simple, powerful message: learn from the past, live in the present and plan for the future.

“He’s the best teacher I’ve ever had,” junior Monica Basquez said. “He’s a one-of-a-kind guy.”

During retirement, Bill said he plans to work outdoors, travel, read plenty of books and never stop learning. In October, he is expecting his first grandchild.

One of his greatest joys is when his former students tell him about the impact his classes had on their lives, he said.

“That’s better than any plaque or trophy,” Bill said. “Then you know you accomplished something.”


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