Jack Smith:
Not Slowed by Disability, He Showed What Life Could Be

Jack Smith with one of his many honors earned during his remarkable life.

Jack Smith was given what some might consider bad luck from birth, but he not only made the most of it, he brightened the lives of countless others.

Born with a developmental disability, Jack was so selfless and honest that he made friends with nearly everyone he met throughout Greater Kansas City. As a television station put it after he passed in 2013, “Even though he had a disability, he made the entire community marvel at his abilities.”

The organization "Jack Needs a Statue" is working to raise funds for a statue honoring Jack. Learn more on the organization's Facebook page.
A 1967 graduate of Liberty High School, Jack became known on campuses throughout metro Kansas City as the face of Liberty Blue Jays sports. Serving as an assistant coach, team manager, ball boy, trainer and the biggest supporter for several Liberty teams, he traveled to schools across the city, roaming the sidelines of football fields and gymnasiums, cheering Blue Jay players and opposing players as well. His presence was so uplifting and appreciated that he earned recognition from Liberty coaches, as well as coaches throughout Greater Kansas City.

Coach Jack

Former basketball player John Sprugel recalled one event that in many ways was typical of Jack. “We were going through a tough stretch in our JV basketball squad. We were playing selfishly; there was little team chemistry, no one running the offense, little communication and poor attitudes. Our coach was tired of us, and he told Jack, ‘You go talk to them. Maybe they'll listen to you because they don't listen to me.’ Jack whistled us to the corner of the court and in his best speaking voice said, ‘Young men, you won't go far in life acting like you are. Get your act together, grow up, man up and own it. Work hard, play hard and do it for Jack.’ We broke huddle and never had another problem the rest of the season. Only Jack could get through to us knuckleheads.”

Another example involves Jack’s reception in 2010 of the Tom Colwell Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Greater Kansas City Basketball Coaches Association. The awards banquet was part of the Missouri/Kansas All-Star games, and Tom Colwell award recipients are a 'who's who' of Kansas City basketball.

“He was Liberty basketball,” recalled Randy Hylton, director of Vocational Services and a longtime friend of Jack’s. “People within the program and from outside the program associated Jack with Liberty. He loved the game, and he loved this program. He had a passion for the sport. He had a passion for the game, and that inspired other people to have the same amount of passion.”

Wherever he went, Jack was also a teacher. Besides his enthusiasm and zest for life, he taught tolerance and loyalty, friendship and hard work. Many former players, now adults with children of their own, remember how Jack was always there. They still remember his comments and sayings, words that encouraged, softened a disappointment or brought a laugh.

Setting an Example

“Jack exemplified what our coaches tried to teach us about dedication,” recalled Chris McCabe, Liberty North boys basketball coach. “He was a living example of that word. I can’t explain what a great man he was, but I can promise you won’t ever hear a bad word about him.”

Although Jack was 65 at the time of his death, he continued to illustrate a zest for life that included meeting new people and learning new skills. With the help of Jeff Billings, he learned photography, and in his later years, he showed a talent that was notable. Jack even became a card-carrying member of the media and, especially in the area of high school and sports photography, he could equal work by seasoned veterans.

A big part of Jack’s life and a place where he had an enormous impact was at work with Vocational Services, Inc. for more than 45 years. One measurement of the quality of his work was the multiple employee honors he received, including Consumer of the Year and numerous employee-of-the-month awards. Jack didn’t receive these just by showing up, however. He was a natural mentor for many other workers with disabilities, and he would often help those having trouble with a project. His contagious enthusiasm was something employers would love to have from all of their workers, a true quest for quality and pride in his work. He was also an inspiration to his coworkers, showing that striving for excellence and coming to work every day pays off.

Touching the Community

Jack's workplace service extended even beyond VSI’s three locations. Among his many extra efforts was serving as a VSI Ambassador, visiting schools, service club meetings and other locations to explain work in a sheltered workshop and what the opportunity represents for thousands of Missourians. He also went before the Missouri legislature and other government bodies, spoke to local classrooms and other groups. Time and again, his explanations of living with a disability broke countless barriers.

Photographer Jeffrey Billings knew Jack for 38 years and said this ability to communicate to young and old was a gift. “We always advocated for people working at the shop to be a part of the community, and he was a great asset in that way. He was always out there with the different teams at the school. He was very community oriented.”

Jack Smith was a community leader in every way. He set an example that motivated elementary and high school students, as well as everyone he came into contact with regardless of age. Wherever Jack went, he made a difference. He was a living example of what can be done with ability, instead of what could not be done because of a disability.

Nationally accredited and state certified, VSI has been providing employment and other services for people with disabilities for over 50 years – and serving the business community with on-demand, flexible services and programs.

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Vocational Services, Inc. is recognized by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). The Arizona-based organization is considered the nation's leading accreditation agency for rehabilitation services. VSI has earned CARF's highest rating, a three-year accreditation.