Published originally in the Spring 2009 issue of the Berea College Magazine
by Patricia Stephens, ’11
Growing up in the small town of Clothier, “Bob” Smith, ’72, knew the scarcity of educational opportunities. He also knew he was determined to have that college degree.
“If you’ve seen the movie Coal Minter’s Daughter, you have a pretty accurate picture of the town and the people,” says Bob. clothier had one grocery and no other stores, no stop lights and no city government. His father worked in a coal mine and his mother took in laundry. Even though Bob’s father had only a third grade education, he knew what it took to get ahead and he made it clear that his sons were to attend college.
Bob’s brother, Archie Smith, ’69, paved the way to Berea College. Two years later Bob arrived. In his 18 years, he had never traveled further than 50 miles from home, and Berea was give times further away. “I was fairly naive about what the world was like,” he says. “However, my upbringing instilled some valuable traits that have served me well. I was blessed with a healthy work ethic that fit nicely with the expectations of Berea College. I developed persistence in everything I attempted. I would never give up until it was accomplished. Maybe that was just West Virginia stubbornness!”
After graduation, Bob moved to Florida to teach business education for Palatka Middle School and later received his master’s degree from the University of North Florida. In 1975, he and educator O.B. Hendrix formed a consortium of rural counties in North Florida, and in 1976, with the help of other educators, they established the North East Florida Educational Consortium (NEFEC). The consortium, operating with a board comprised of superintendents from the area, brought together shared resources, personnel and materials. When Bob began serving as the executive director, NEFEC’s budget was a meager $24,000.
In 30 years, the consortium has grown to include 15 school districts, 110 full-time employees and 76,000 students; it operate son a $58 million budget. Bob sees NEFEC as a service organization. He asks his staff to keep service in the forefront of all they do. “It is why we exist,” he says simply.
NEFEC offers more than 50 programs to improve instruction and save tax dollars. The organization saves a great deal of money by self-insuring everything within the districts they serve, including buildings, buses, worker compensation and such. All schools in the districts share a computer and the district offices keep the payroll, student records, attendance, grade cards and state reporting requirements. By using one system, the schools save on hardware, software and staff.
For 33 years Bob has been at the helm of the consortium. “As I prepare to retire,” he says, “I have felt obligated to return to others the blessing I received in being able to attend Berea. The more I thought about it, the more determined I became to search out those deserving children who, for financial reasons, probably have no intention of attending college.” Bob hopes to create a scholarship program for bright, financially strapped students from his area. This spring he traveled to Berea college with several high school students to show them the wonderful opportunities that Berea has to offer.
Bob Smith hopes that as NEFEC director her embodies a work ethic of service and due diligence. On his desk rests a rock that contains his simple motto: “It Can Be Done.”