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Myrtle M. Smith, 98, long-time teacher at Kelly Avenue School in Peoria Heights and even longer resident of Spring Bay Road, East Peoria, died on Monday, May 21, 2018, at 4:25 p.m. in Metamora. Myrtle was born June 17, 1919, on the family farm on the Little Wabash River near Crossville, Illinois, the youngest child of Jacob and Victoria (Barnes) Slankard. She married H. Herschel Smith on April 2, 1938, in Henderson, Kentucky, and they soon moved to East Peoria, or, as she termed it, she “escaped” southern Illinois. Four children soon followed before Herschel was drafted into the Army during WW II. After his return from the Army, they bought land near Spring Bay, named it “Sandy Acres,” and there she resided for the next 70 years.
Following her husband’s heart attack in 1962, Myrtle enrolled at Bradley University as a first-time college student. While working full-time as chief cook at Riverview Grade School and raising two young grandchildren, she earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Bradley University (1967). She began teaching fourth grade at Kelly Avenue School later that year and remained there until retiring in 1987. A born and devoted teacher, she intuitively understood the importance of a child’s self-esteem long before the term entered public consciousness. Her former students and their families continued to phone and visit her long after her retirement from teaching.
After she started teaching she became a passionate traveler, annually spending a part of her summer vacation in Europe, usually in the British Isles, where she maintained close friendships. Scotland was a particularly favorite destination. She often said that if she were younger she would immigrate to Edinburgh. Myrtle was unafraid of traveling alone, but in later years was joined by her daughter, Shirley, on her travels. She was no less intrepid on her final journey, to ”the undiscover’d country from whose bourn no traveler returns.”
Myrtle followed politics and current events closely. She may have been one of the few persons to have shaken the hands of both Eleanor Roosevelt and Barack Obama. She maintained a strong and independent disposition, possessed an uncanny ability to strike up lengthy conversations with strangers, and had a politician’s gift for remembering names. She was a member of RiversEdge United Methodist Church in Spring Bay.
She is survived by one daughter, Shirley Miller of East Peoria; three sons, Larry (Jill) Smith of Yorkville, IL, Roger (Janice) Smith of East Peoria, and Lee Smith of Peoria; nine grandchildren; ten great-grandchildren; and daughter-in-law, Corrine Smith of Anchorage, Alaska. Myrtle was preceded in death by her husband, Herschel, in 1989, sister, Mary, of Mt. Vernon, IL, son, Bill “Corky” Smith of Anchorage, Alaska, and grandson Michael of Washington. Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren carry on her legacy.
Funeral Services will be held at 10:30 am on Saturday, May 26, 2018 at RiversEdge United Methodist Church in Spring Bay with Reverend Floyd Blackard officiating. Visitation will be held from 4:00 pm until 7:00 pm on Friday, May 25, 2018 at Mason Funeral Home Germantown Hills Chapel and also one hour prior to her service on Saturday at the church. Burial will be in Spring Bay Cemetery in Spring Bay. In lieu of flowers memorials may be given to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Midwest Affiliate, 530 NE Glen Oak Avenue, Peoria, IL 61637 or RiversEdge United Methodist Church, 500 North Chicago Street, East Peoria, IL 61611. Online condolences at www.masonfuneralhomes.com.