James A. Smith was born March 16, 1937 in Livonia Township, Michigan to Joseph A. Smith and Irene E. Campbell. His early life was spent on his beloved grand-parents dairy farm where he helped his grandpa farm with their draft horses, milk their Jersey cows, deliver milk to customers, and raise Hereford cattle. He also spent his formative years in the northern woods of Michigan where he helped his mother run her small general store at Houghton Lake, MI. Jim helped raise his brother and sisters, hunting and fishing to put food on the table, and working any odd job due to the absence of his father.
Jim joined the United States Armed Services in 1956; he did his basic training at Ft. Benning, GA before serving in the European Theater at Checkpoint Charlie where he watched the Berlin Wall being built. He traveled widely across Europe during his deployment in various E4 specialist roles including as a sniper. He saved a man from drowning while on duty one night. He served on the US Ski Patrol in Kitzbuhel, Austria that supported the Austrian Olympic team. He especially loved sharing stories from his adventurous time in the Army.
After he returned home from the service, he was on the National Ski Patrol in Michigan, spent time hunting and fishing, and worked as a carpenter and mechanic. He met the love of his life, Geraldine L. Freitag at Eastern Michigan University. They were married in 1964 and moved west to Colorado so Jim could attend Colorado State University (CSU) Forestry School where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Naturalist studies. He then served as a National Park Ranger at Mt. Rushmore National Memorial in Keystone, SD. Jim then served at CSU in their youth programs and eventually with the Bureau of Reclamation Youth Conservation Corp in Loveland, CO. He moved to Estes Park, CO in 1987 where he was a hydro turbine mechanic at the Bureau of Reclamation’s Estes Park Power Plant until his retirement. He and Geri bought a small farm near their daughter Jill in WY and also wintered in Arizona for a few years. He moved to Pine Bluffs, WY in 2019.
He was a federally licensed bird bander for the Cornell University Ornithology lab and the Audubon Society. He especially loved birds of all kinds and was an exceptionally talented artist in carving birds out of wood. He showed in several galleries, including the Estes Park Art Gallery.
He served as a 4-H Leader for many years, led homeschool groups on wildlife and forestry, and helped with building projects and the security teams at church. He was a licensed gunsmith, master builder and craftsman, mechanic, and served for over 20 years at Rocky Mountain National Park on the Elk Bugle Patrol. He enjoyed hunting, fishing, hiking, traveling, camping, skiing, snowshoeing, and doing anything outdoors. He was more at home in the woods than anywhere.
He was a devoted husband to Geri for 55 years until her death in 2019. He adored his twin daughters, Karen and Jill, and especially loved being Grandpa to his grandson Carl. He was known for his generosity of time, good will, and spirit. He would lend a helping hand to all who asked and always had a funny story to share. He loved kids, animals, and farming. Despite a very challenging early life situation, he was always positive and chose to make the most of every opportunity he could while encouraging others to do the same. He was creative, resourceful, and resilient.
Jim passed away December 22, 2023 and was 86 years old. He is survived by his twin daughters, Jill (Glen) Klawonn of Pine Bluffs, WY; and Karen Smith of Pine Bluffs, WY; his grandson Carl Klawonn; his sister Louise (Bill) Kleinsorge of Gaylord, MI; brother-in-law Stephen (Deb) Freitag of MacComb, MI; and numerous nephews, many wonderful friends, and his favorite cat, Murphy. He was preceded in death by his wife, Geri Smith of Estes Park, CO, parents Joseph Smith of AZ and Irene Smith of Houghton Lake, MI, his sister Marrilynn Burley and brother David Smith, also of MI, and his grandparents Perry and Elsie Campbell of Canton Township, MI.
Memorial Services, Honor Guard presentation, and a time of fellowship will be held Saturday, January 6, 2024 at 1:30pm at Crossroads Community Church in Pine Bluffs, WY.