Dan Smith never took credit for helping to reshape Kent -- he was the first to say that it was team effort -- but there is no question that he played a key role in the revitalization of the Tree City.
As executive director of the Kent Area Chamber of Commerce, he fostered a spirit of cooperation and a "can-do" attitude while working with officials from the city of Kent and Kent State University to lay the groundwork for Kent's turnaround. He brought that same spirit, and an abundance of energy, to his subsequent role as ecconomic development director for the city.
Mr. Smith died Wednesday at the age of 45 after being diagnosed with cancer 15 months ago. He leaves a lasting legacy in the community that he did so much to reshape.
Gregarious, blessed with an irrepressible sense of humor and a gentle wit, Dan Smith had an ever-present smile that made it a pleasure to do business with him. His genial nature helped a great deal as he took part in the complex negotiations necessary to secure the sites involved in the redevelopment of Kent. His upbeat attitude and sense of confidence in the end result made a difference in overcoming temporary setbacks and delays. He focused on the big picture, but never neglected the details. He made the pieces of the puzzle fit, and made that look easy even when it was a challenge.
He knew how to reach out to constituencies throughout the community, including those who were initially reluctant to join in the redevelopment effort. As Chamber director and economic development chief, he worked hard to foster the partnership with Kent State University that enabled the Esplanade and the KSU Hotel and Conference Center to become important elements of the city's turnaround.
Kent's transformation isn't the result of a single individual's efforts. It is, indeed, a team effort, as Dan Smith and other key players in the process stressed repeatedly. But there is no question that the process has involved having the right people on board to get the job done, and he was among the most important.
The final year of his life brought the challenge of coping with his illness and its prognosis. True to his nature, he did his best to remain positive and remained on the job for as long as possible. His spirit of endurance made him a profile in courage and an inspirational example.
Last month, the city of Kent honored Mr. Smith by naming a small park in the downtown area in his honor. Located in the midst of the redevelopment area he worked to make a reality, it is a fitting tribute to his efforts. It may become the site of lunchtime concerts and other musical events, which would be appropriate given the fact that he also was a talented musician who loved nothing better than being with people having a good time.
The park honoring him will be a tangible reminder of Dan Smith's efforts on behalf of the city he loved so much. An even greater tribute to his vision -- and the years of work that it took to realize it -- can be seen simply by taking a walk through the downtown area of the "new" Kent he did so much to bring about.