Editor’s Note: Gunsmoke with U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon portrayed by towering James Arness, debuted in September, 1955. When finally cancelled in September, 1975, it had lived longer than the period it depicted - the wild, wild West of the cattle drives - and was the longest running drama series in the history of TV. The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp was another series among some 30 TV westerns of the time. For many folks, retiring Ada Junior High Principal David L. Smith reminds them of those two lawmen, at least the TV versions, in his 18 years and one semester of patrolling the halls and campus of AJH.



By JOE CLAXTON

Publications Director Ada City Schools



ADA — “The Best Little Junior High in the Country,’ so named by retiring principal David L. Smith, will be a different place next semester.

Gunsmoke fans have made the rounds of Dodge with Dillon — the Long Branch, Delmonico’s, the livery stable. Accompanying AJH’s marshal on one of his last rounds, the big coat out on a cold day, one is struck by the camaraderie between Smith and his kids, even the ones he is onto about something.

Though not anywhere the 6-7 frame of James Arness, Smith loomed above the halls heavy with kids between classes.

“If you are out among them you will derail potential problems that you will not have to deal with later. You always have a positive smile, and you look at the faces, the mood, always on the lookout for possible problems,” Smith said.

And he is not the only one, all his teachers were on duty in the halls, some assigned to the buses, other parts of the campus and that will continue with new principal Wade Evans and assistant principal Bryan Harwell.

“Kids are ever changing. Customs, sayings change and you best be aware of all that and change with them,” Smith said. “You have to be able to let them know that you care about them, but at the same time they must know that you are the principal and they are the kid.

“Very few of them get angry with me. They know they did something wrong and they know I will be fair. They know they had their due process, had their chances to do right.”

Each morning from 7:30-8:20, after school, each time the bell rings it is into the hall and both lunch periods.

Mr. Smith’s lunch. Always a Granola Bar and a Gatorade. Always. Lunchtime varies with the biz. On this day it was around 2:30 before he caught a break.

Retired Ada City Schools Superintendent Zane Bowman dropped by to see Smith on his last day as principal, Wednesday, Dec. 19. Bowman, who coined the term The System for Ada City Schools, was also mostly responsible for the Dillon-Earp analogy, though others saw the marshal look in Smith as well.

“He was a throwback. The way he patrolled the halls, the playgrounds, like the marshal. I’d see him whether in shirt sleeves and sunglasses in 100-plus temperatures or with that big coat on out on the playground near freezing. And all that came first. I could be in his office and when a bell rang he would pardon himself and be off on his rounds.”

Mr. Smithisms, or Stuff I Have Learned, revolve around the No. 1 priority for teachers and administration.

Mr. Smithism: Remember student success and well being is your first priority.

Everyday is a good day; some days are busier than others

His 18 years and one semester is not a record for AJH. At 29 years, 1933-62, that title belongs to A.R. Wallace, though Smith comes in at No. 2.

None can deny it, the legend of Wyatt shall forever live on the trail.

The road to AJH was a long one in itself.

Born in 1946 in the approximate location of what is now May’s Drug Center (the old Valley View Hospital), Smith’s family lived in Ahloso. Schooling for the future teacher/administrator came at Ahloso 1-8 and Stonewall 9-12.

“While I was there (Stonewall) they built the current building. Before that it was an old wooden building,” Smith said, adding that he graduated in 1965 and four years later had a degree in education — physical health and English. In 1966 he married his high school sweetheart, Sammie, and off it was for West Texas — Amarillo — for a 20-year stay.

First came West Texas Elementary, 11 years of PE as well as forays into reading, science and social studies.

Then came the run as principal in Amarillo — 1980, four years at Pleasant Valley Elementary, 1984, three years at East Ridge Elementary, then the move to junior high with two years at Sam Houston Junior High 1987-88 and 1988-89.

“It was a big two story, an old school, with 850 students (AJH has just over 600)

Two events led to Smith’s return to Ada. One, the untimely death of beloved AJH principal Albert Bare, and the pull of home.

“I had always kinda wanted to come back home. My family was here. I applied for the job and Zane called and asked me to come interview,” he said.

That was in April. In late May, with school still in session in Texas, Smith received a call one evening. It was Bowman. He would like to talk about the job some more, this time on Smith’s home turf in Amarillo, and of course, get a look at Sam Houston Middle School.

“I asked him when he would like to come. He said ‘In the morning, I’m in Amarillo right now.”

It was a big school, 850 students compared to just over 600 for AJH, and had the potential for gang influence, but Bowman found the student population orderly and well-behaved.

“I was impressed by all of it after looking at the kids and the general way things were kept. I had been a principal for some time and had spent some time teaching around El Paso and knew what to look for,” Bowman said.

“I offered him the job right there, told him what I could do moneywise. Before the day was over he accepted,” Bowman said.

So from a city of 180,000 the Smiths went back to 18,000 or so Ada.

“He was a disciplinarian, a lot like me in that he was not a socialite, did his job well, then went home. I never had to worry about the junior high. I always knew he was going to do a good job,” Bowman said. “He was exactly what I was looking for, a guy who ran things, got the job done out of respect, not fear and he hasn’t changed a bit. Dave Smith ranks up there with the top principals I have ever known.”

Mr. Smithism: Remember your philosophy and your attitude are directly reflected in your school’s climate.

Mr. Smithism: Always keep your superiors informed regarding problem situations.

When prompted to recall the amusing incidents along the way, he mostly drew a blank.

“There was usual stuff, kids falling in the mud, ripping their pants, that sort of stuff.

“I think one thing the kids really liked was when it snowed and we declared a Snowball Day. It was OK to throw snowballs, have snowball fights. Everyone was fair game unless they were on a sidewalk. On a sidewalk meant they were not participating. Off the sidewalk they were fair game. I seemed to be a quite popular target at times.”

There were other times, however, remembered by his loyal teaching corps if not by he.

Like the time he forgot about the fire drill and did not hear the alarm. When he came out of the bathroom he was baffled by an empty building.

Or the blood-borne pathogens training for the staff. A line of teachers demonstrated techniques and equipment. Coach Terry Don Teel was at the end of the line wearing latex gloves. He was to demonstrate the safe, clean way to take off used gloves. Smith stopped with his back to Teel. Teel snapped the gloves as if he was putting them on ready to use.

The staff cracked up, as did Smith. Teel reprised his role on video during the Student of the Month assembly on the last day of school before Winter Break. Once again it brought the house down, though this time laced with tears from student and staff, and Smith.

Mr. Smithism: “Change, and being able to change with change; Don’t be afraid to change things that need changing; Don’t be afraid to leave things alone that don’t need to change. Don’t be afraid to change your decision if it’s wrong.

Sammie Smith had a long career in education herself, retiring as a math teacher at Ada High last year.

They have three grown children, ranging from 39-year-old Stacey Collins in Denver to middle child Kelly Hanning in Colorado Springs to 1993 AHS grad Dustin in Muskogee.

Mr. Smithism: “Just remember it is your job to assist teachers in their efforts to ensure student success.”

“Always be positive and have positive things to say about your students, the people you work with, and your school!”

When Bowman retired a couple of years ago he indicated he did not want a lot of going away fanfare. Continuing the western theme, he wanted to just ride off into the sunset, though friends pointed out his home was in the opposite direction.

“I think Dave will be the same way. You won’t hear much from him once he is gone,” Bowman said.

So what was the last day at AJH like for Mr. Smith? Perhaps it will be like a recent Gunsmoke Rerun: Quiet Day In Dodge.

The faculty would have none of it, surprising him with the ‘Good-bye Mr. Smith’ video and with a hunting knife with ‘The Best Little Junior High’ theme engraved, a large gift certificate to a sporting goods store and a huge poster of the Centennial picture with Mr. Smith and Co. outside the school.

The knife and gift certificate will be put to use in retirement. At home there is tube fishing nearby, walking distance onto a neighbor’s pond, or a short drive in the pickup to a patch of land he calls his own.

“We’ll be pretty casual in retirement. We have a pretty nice place with most of the projects done, little to bother us,” he said.

Smith will not be completely out of the workplace. He will slip in a couple days here and there with his brother working for his brother’s son’s septic systems business.

Then there is the Route 66 syndrome. A lifelong dream came true a few years ago with the purchase of a 1987 Corvette. White with red interior of course, not unlike the Vette Tod and Buz toured Route 66 in on the TV series of the same name, 1960-64.

The convertible only comes out for Sunday drives, a trip or two, never on rainy days.

Perhaps the Smiths will travel back out Route 66 to Amarillo just like Tod and Buz, then north to Denver and Colorado Springs. No longer Mr. Smith, just Dave.

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