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Remembering A Modern Day Pioneer: Marge Smith

Margaret “Marge” Emma Camfield Smith, age 96, of Olathe, Kansas, beloved founding first lady of MidAmerica Nazarene University, went to be with her Lord and Savior on March 15, 2015. She passed away peacefully surrounded by family at the Olathe Hospice House. She was a daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and friend. To the community of Olathe and MidAmerica Nazarene University, Marge will be remembered for a legacy of faithfulness and investment in the lives of others. Always a gracious host, one felt her love when in her presence. Her genuine love for others and her faith was evident in the way she lived her life.

It is difficult to capture Marge’s spirit in words. Vivacious and funny, she had an unshakeable Christian faith, was a lady in every respect and had an unquenchable passion for life–and for caring for people. She was determined and believed anything was possible if people prayed and worked hard enough. She was a prayer warrior for and second mom to college students who often were just leaving home for the first time. She poured out her life for her Jesus, her family, her friends, her church and her university. She could win anyone with her warm smile and her low southern drawl. She was real and practical and hard working. People loved Marge. And Marge loved people. She was a modern day pioneer. 

Margaret Emma Camfield was born January 6, 1919, in Mingus, Texas, to Effie Mae (Bates) and Sullivan Ross Camfield, a coal miner. Marge attended Bethany Nazarene College and it was there she met Royal Curtis “Curt” Smith. Marge and Curt were married Feb. 7, 1937, in Cleveland, Oklahoma. They had two sons, Barth born in 1940 and Blake born in 1945.

Curt and Marge pastored churches in Greenville, Port Arthur, Dallas and Corpus Christi, Texas, before moving to Bethany, Oklahoma, in 1949, where Curt served as vice president of public relations and fund raising at Bethany Nazarene College.

In 1966, Curt was selected to be the founding president of a new Nazarene college. Together, Curt and Marge came to Olathe for the adventure of a lifetime and began the historic work of locating and building a Christian, liberal arts college – MidAmerica Nazarene College (now MidAmerica Nazarene University).

"They gave us $5,000 and said 'It's an opportunity - come build a college,'" Marge recounted in 2013. Together they inspired the dream of a new college in Kansas.  By faith and determination they gave of themselves to bring that dream to life. Through their legacy, Curt and Marge shaped the direction of Olathe and the futures of thousands of students.

“I feel like it’s my baby,” Marge shared in a 2013 interview. “I feel like all those kids are my kids, and everybody that’s ever been through [MNU], whether I know them or not, I just claim every one of them like they were mine.”

Ultimately, Curt and Marge shared the same vision. “Our task is first to get people to God.” Today, that vision is a reality. More than 30,000 alumni have served in over 150 countries.

In March of 2014, Marge and her late husband were honored with the city of Olathe “Cathedral Builder Award” recognizing the contributions they made to the city of Olathe through MNU.

Friends and loved ones gave loving tributes to Marge.

Former Associated Student Government President and Alum Aaron Bennett (’05) shared, “Humor. Commitment. Unconventional. Steadfast. These are just some of the words that come to mind when I reflect on my memories of Marge. Although her time as acting First Lady of MNU (or MANC as it was at the time) was long past when I arrived as a Freshman in 2001, her presence and influence was still felt in a palpable way. She was an active presence on campus in my years as a student and as I moved up in roles of student leadership I was blessed to spend more time with when she would stop in. Although our relationship was never one of formal teacher or mentor, the pieces of wisdom she shared through our conversations had an impact on my development as a leader. She conveyed to me the necessity of finding humor in situations (especially challenges), a sense of unending commitment to a mission, that being a Pioneer sometimes means convention is not the answer and that through steadfastness in your faith, God will be faithful.”

Lifelong friend Janet Halvorson said Marge was loving, kind, supportive and accepting.

“She became my lifelong friend and mentor. Marge was a constant, vibrant and dynamic spirit with unwavering love and commitment to MNU.”

Her son Blake, speaking of the relationship between his parents said “She was just his [Curt’s] best friend; she’s always had the gift of encouragement.”

Among her lasting contributions to MNU is today’s Marge Smith Archives located in MNU’s Mabee Library. The Marge Smith Archives is the official archival repository for MidAmerica Nazarene University. The archives were founded under Marge’s guidance and direction at the encouragement of her brother, Ernest (Bud) Camfield. Marge raised money to create an endowment to fund the archives. After Dr. R. Curtis Smith retired as president of the university, the archives were renamed the Marge Smith Archives in honor of her work to preserve the history of the college.

Marge was preceded in death by her parents; husband, Dr. R. Curtis Smith; brother, E.R. “Buddy” Camfield; and sister, Mary Nelma Camfield Ingram. She is survived by two sons, Barth (and Kathy) Smith of Olathe, Kansas, and Blake (and Kathleen) Smith of Overland Park, Kansas; five grandchildren, Doug (and Tonya) Smith of Yuba City, California; Michelle (and Scott) Travis of Boerne, Texas; Brent (and Serena) Smith of Boerne, Texas; Monica Rosegrant of Olathe, Kansas; and Melody (and Stephen) Smith of Olathe, Kansas. She is also survived by 13 great grandchildren and many cousins, nieces and nephews.

A visitation will be held at College Church of the Nazarene Thursday, March 19 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The funeral will be held at College Church of the Nazarene Friday, March 20 at 11 a.m.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Marge Smith Memorial via MidAmerica Nazarene University. Checks may be made payable to MNU or online donations can be made to the Marge Smith Memorial.

May the legacy of Marge’s faith and her service to others inspire us all. 

 

 

By Kim Campbell, adapted from tribute by Melody Smith, granddaughter of Marge Smith. 

 

 

 

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