August 01, 2018You may have heard of Everett R. Smith, the Industrial Arts teacher at Ovid Elsie High School. He has been featured in many magazine and newspaper articles and has appeared on TV at various times on the Michigan Out-of-Doors show. Mr. Smith has earned the respect of his students by being an example that they can always look up to and admire. His lively personality, and his upbeat outlook on life, is contagious to those around him. Mr. Smith has a knack for bringing out a student's ability to think, reason, learn, and have confidence in himself.
Everett admits to being a "jock" in high school and college. "I was always a team leader. With the clock running down in a tie game, I wanted the ball in my hands," he remembered. "And, I guess I still do," he laughed. However, as an adult his ambitions stretched far beyond that level. After college, with a teaching degree in hand, he asked himself, "What can I do to inspire students to pursue a lifestyle that will achieve levels that will benefit them and society for the greater good?" After a 38 year teaching career Mr. Smith has certainly helped many of his students reach those goals.
"This isn't just a woodshop," he told me as we entered his shop area. "We do fine woodworking here and build one-of-a-kind furniture." Mr. Smith is an outdoorsman and he encourages outdoor activities and pursuits. In addition to beautiful furniture, his students have built over 800 traditional recurve bows. "We have a target in the shop and the whole class gathers around to watch a student shoot the first arrow from their own bow. You can see the pride of accomplishment in their faces as the class cheers for them." Student projects have also included making more than 20 beautiful wooden canoes and kayaks, hundreds of custom wooden game calls, fishing nets, snowshoes, fishing rods and reels, even dogsleds for winter sled dog racing. "We will research and attempt any project a student wants to pursue. However, each student must pay, according to their means, at least part of the cost for materials used in their project. This contribution ensures students put forth the effort and take pride and ownership in their work," Everett explained.
Everett R. Smith at his desk in the Ovid Elsie High School shop where he has taught for the past 38 years.
To my astonishment, Mr. Smith also teaches metal shop, welding, drafting, runs a band-saw mill at the school, and has built a kiln for drying hardwoods to be used by students for woodworking projects. He also holds a residential building license and teaches a class that actually builds homes for owners. Students who work on the homes are paid for their work by the home owners. Any profit left over is used to buy materials or commercial tools for the school shops.
Mr. Smith runs an open shop, meaning visitors are always welcome. So many people, who were interested in his success, visited the shop that Everett started an annual workshop day where students display their projects for the community and the public. "The students then become the teachers as they explain their projects to interested people," Smith explained. "I just step back and let them teach."
Mr. Smith's programs have earned numerous awards over the years. His teaching efforts and the annual workshop day have been so successful that many donations of equipment, materials, lumber, and offers of cash support have helped him to further promote his students. It's no wonder that other schools have patterned programs after his teaching methods.
Everett also opens the shop some evenings and supervises students who need more time to finish their projects. Always a motivator, he once printed up fliers advertising a canoe race the following Saturday. Dropping a flier into half a dozen unfinished canoes started a flurry of student activity. By race time all the canoes were finished and the students enjoyed a day of fun on the water with past students who had also built canoes in Mr. Smith's class. Another time, after finishing ice fishing rods complete with hand crafted wooden reels, Mr. Smith signed about 20 students out of school to spend a day ice fishing. Michigan Out-of-Doors cameras were there to film a show while the students caught fish, cleaned them, and Mr. Smith cooked them on a grill. I wish I had a teacher like that!
Young people have learned a lot more from Mr. Smith than just woodworking. Those who know Everett know he is a deeply religious man. Some of his high school students have also attended the class he teaches at church. Students have greatly appreciated him. I've seen letters thanking him for being their teacher, a role model, a great example, and a Christian. Everett Smith knows who he is and why he is here. And… he cares
As Everett R. Smith retires from teaching high school this year, he is looking forward (as always) to having more time for family, outdoor interests, and hobbies. "Another pursuit in my retirement is woodworking. I feel like my best woodworking is still inside of me. I've been teaching it to others for 38 years, and have loved it. But I will now be designing and constructing the furniture that I have held inside me. I'm ready to explode!"
However, more importantly, he is excited to begin making speaking engagements, geared mostly to men and boys, about being leaders in family values and what really matters in life. "I didn't go into teaching to make a lot of money. I went into teaching to make a lot of difference," Everett told me. "I'm excited about taking this new path to make a difference in people's lives."
As Everett leaves Ovid Elsie High School he will be leaving his school shop in good hands. His son, Ben, who has been teaching industrial arts in another high school, has accepted the position left open by his father. Ben plans to continue teaching in a similar fashion as that of his dad. "They won't even have to change the name on the door. That will save the school district some money," Everett joked.
What an admirable legacy to pass on as Everett R. Smith moves into the next phase of an exciting life.