A “Consummate Salesman” has moved to a New Territory. Kyle Smith, 96 years young, was taken Home by the Lord Monday, March 3, 2014, after a short bout with pneumonia.
Born March 28, 1917, in Wheeling, West Virginia, Kyle’s family moved to Akron, Ohio, where he was raised, graduating high school, then attending Kent State University. During the Depression Years, he made his way with his music (being a fantastic pianist), by forming the Kyle Smith Orchestra, which played in many venues in the Northern Ohio area. In 1941, the U.S. Army “invited him” to Ft. Lewis in Tacoma, where he met his wife Elizabeth “Betty” Heidinger of Tacoma. The two fell in love and were married on January 31, 1942….recently celebrating their 72nd Wedding Anniversary!
A few short months following their wedding, Smith was “deployed” by the U.S. Army to the European Theater, serving in both North Africa and Italy in the 5th Army for the remainder of World War II. During his 3+ years in Europe, in addition to his regular responsibilities, he helped to organize USO Tours and hosted the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Marlene Dietrich, and Danny Thomas.
Returning home after the end of World War II, and with a passion for photography (as well as music), he founded Tacoma’s Smith-Western Co. in 1947, selling his black and white scenic photographic post cards to tourist retailers throughout Washington and Oregon from the back of his Mercury Station Wagon. Kyle, with his wife Betty, laid the foundation for what has become today one of the largest wholesale suppliers of Tourist Items not only in the United States, but globally. In fact, he continued to work “in the field”, calling on his beloved customers along the Washington Coast into his early 90’s, and subsequently continued to “Man his Office” until he was 95. In the early 1970’s he was a Co-Founder of his industry’s International Organization, the Post Card Distributors Association of North America (known today as the Souvenir Wholesale Distributors’ Association), was its third president, and was subsequently awarded the Bill Sanborn Memorial Award (a Lifetime Achievement Award). As well, in 1999 the World Trade Center Tacoma awarded him the George Francis Train International Achievement Award and, in 2011, that same body recognized Smith-Western Co. as the Importer of the Year.
In the early 1960’s, he saw the potential of a seaside settlement near Oyehut, Washington, and became a pioneer attracting visitors to Washington’s premier coastal city, Ocean Shores. For some 50 years, Kyle and Betty drove to their “second home” at Ocean Shores almost every weekend, where they have many, many of their closest friendships and attended church. With his passion for “organizing” and “music”, Smith, with two fine partners, bought the Ocean Shores Inn and Convention Center in the 1970’s and owned it for many years. During that time, he brought in entertainers such as The Fifth Dimension, Jose Feliciano, Lou Rawls, and Ray Charles. He became particularly close to Ray Charles until Ray’s passing.
In addition to his love of family, country, music, photography, and his business, Smith was a Community Leader in his home of University Place. There, in 1963, he was a Charter Member of the University Place Kiwanis Club, serving as its President and subsequently as the District’s Lieutenant Governor. He helped to organize many community events through Kiwanis, and he was very proud of the fact that he had PERFECT ATTENDANCE for 50 years!
Kyle Smith is survived by his loving wife of 72 years, Betty; Son Kyle “Skip”(wife Gayle Hampton-Smith) and Daughters Patricia “Patt” (husband Phillip Albright) and Mollie; Grandaughters Elizabeth “Libby” and Courtney; and Great Grandchildren Benjamin, Samuel, and Taylor.
Article in The Tacoma News Tribune: Kyle Smith, Tacoma postcard and souvenir pioneer, dies at 96.