The international student’s best friend
Val Vita | Collegio Writer
When Donald Smith was a boy, he says he took a bike apart just to put it back together. Today, Smith is a 64-year-old Pittsburg resident who dedicates most of his time to helping international students.
Smith was born May 1, 1947, in Lamar, Mo. He says he was very quiet and shy, and even simple things, like buying ice cream, were difficult for him.
“I didn’t want to do that,” Smith said. “My parents usually did it for me. Sometimes, they made me do it.”
Smith says he went to a one-room elementary school.
“I was a good student, but I didn’t like to study,” Smith said. “Let’s just say I made great grades because I liked to learn. But I always found difficulty in reading and concentrating. I like to do things instead of thinking about it. I like action. That’s why I never watch TV. I’m too busy to do these kinds of things.”
In high school, he found a passion for math. And he says he found a passion for Fran Walker, to whom he has been married for 44 years.
In 1965 Smith became a Pittsburg State University math student, a time when he made good friends.
“You might not live near them,” Smith said. “But your college friends are for your whole life.”
He says he only studied for one year.
“I found out I had to do other, more important things. Things related to God,” said Smith.
He went to Ozark Christian College, in Joplin, Mo. where he studied to be a Christian worker. After this, he went to a Christian seminary.
Smith says he came to Pittsburg to work with college students in 1978. He became the campus minister for Campus Christians, an organization designed to help students and provide Christian activities.
He says his work always focused on international students, helping them with all kinds of problems, and organizing dinners and trips. During these years, Smith says he met students from all around the world. Yet, he says he never got out of North America, and has traveled only to Mexico and Canada.
Smith says his interest in international students stems from the people he has met, who have speech problems, people who thought that English was difficult to understand.
“I like to listen to people who don’t speak very clearly,” Smith said. “Because I am able to help them.”
In 1998, Smith started providing bikes to the international students. He says this is the best way for them to move from one place to another. Today he has about 200 bikes, most of them donated by members of the community, churches or the university.
The students who rent a bike have to pay a $30 fee, but when they return the bike they are refunded the money. Smith says he also fixes any problems that the bikes might have, free of charge.
Angel Sanchez says he rented a bike from Smith in January and he uses it to get to his classes. Sanchez says he has had one problem with the bike so far and Smith fixed it for him.
“But Don said, ‘Don’t worry, I will fix for you’,” said Sanchez, exchange student in international business. “What would we do without Don Smith, without the bikes? He is really important to us international students.”
Brenda Hawkins, administrative specialist in the international office, says that Smith is a precious person for the international office, even though he is not officially part of the faculty.
“Everyone here appreciates and loves him,” Hawkins said. “He has a trailer and a van, so if some of the students are moving we always call Don. It is great to have a community member full time.”
Alheli Aranda says that Smith was one of the first people she met when she arrived from Paraguay over a year ago.
“Don is one of the first people in Pittsburg that invites the international students to activities that are not academics,” said Aranda, sophomore in music. “And he is right there if you need him.”
Smith says helping the students is one of the most important things in his life.
“I would like to be active with students until I can’t make it anymore,” Smith said.
Pittsburg State University and the PSU Alumni Association are going to honor Smith with a Distinguished Service Award. The ceremony, open to the public, is on Thursday, March 1, at 3 p.m. in McCray Hall.