Fred Kenneth Smith, was born on August 21, 1926 in St. Louis, Missouri to Fred William Smith and Daisy Dake Smith. His dad was a train brakeman and conductor and his mom was a homemaker and the younger sister of the famous evangelist Finis Dake whose monumental work, the Dake Annotated Reference Bible, has been in print for over 50 years. The youngest of three children, Fred Kenneth was always called by his middle name, Ken, which in later years caused much confusion with the IRS and other governmental entities! He had two older sisters, Bessie and Mary.
Ken was an incredibly diligent worker his entire life. He began working full time at a bakery at age 16. He held this job for two years, juggling working full time and attending high school.
At 18, prior to being drafted, Ken and several of his buddies decided to enlist in the Navy. They went to the recruiting office to sign up to fight in World War II together. Unfortunately, they didn’t get to choose which branch of the service they would be in and when it came to Ken’s turn, the recruiting officer said in an authoritative voice, “Army!” and stamped his papers. That was it – he was an Army man. This turned out well for him in the long-run as he was the first of all his buddies to make it home from war.
After training in Texas, he was deployed to Europe, determined to be brave. He said, “If I was a soldier, defending my country, I figured I better not be afraid of anything.” As he was travelling on the train to Germany, they got the news that the war in Europe had ended!! He did stay in Europe, serving as a typist and guard for a short stint, but when one of the colonels realized that Ken was a talented artist, he used him mostly to design posters, invitations and all sorts of other graphics that were needed. He was then scheduled to go to Japan. But, before departing, again, they heard the war in Asia had also concluded. While the family liked to joke that they ended the war twice because they knew Ken was coming, he truly saw this timing as God’s providential hand on his life.
And God did truly look out for Ken. Upon entering the army he had a blood test that read O positive. However, decades later another blood test revealed he was actually A negative! I guess this explains the skepticism of his daughter Zana’s junior high science teacher when they did blood testing and she came out with an incompatible blood type to either her mom or dad! But God spared Ken from seeing any fighting and thus protected him from being given the wrong blood type if wounded. This story would always bring tears to his eyes, knowing that God had so carefully preserved his life.
After he got back from the army his parents decided to move to California and bought two parcels of land to build a house in Tujunga. Ken, his father, and his uncle built that house together from the ground up.
Soon after coming back from the war, he met a beautiful young lady at a church snow party, Val Langley. And the rest was history! Val was 15 and Ken 20, so they waited three years until she graduated from high school to get married on September 16, 1949.
Ken attended Pasadena City College which held a contest each year for the best design for the Queen’s Float in the Rose Parade. Ken noticed that some other students were copying his design, so he created two floats – one at school and one at home that no one knew about. He entered the contest with his secret illustration and won! If you happen to have a 1965 World Book Encyclopedia and look up the entry for “Float,” you’ll find a photo of one of the floats he designed.
He then began attending the prestigious Art Center College of Design, which is still one of the most highly regarded art colleges. Val gave up a full scholarship to Stanford University and worked long hours as a telephone operator to pay for their living expenses. Since he had won the float contest, Floats Incorporated offered him a part-time job designing ten floats a year for $500, which just about covered his tuition at Art Center. Life was very hard financially and Ken was thinking about quitting school. But the powers-that-be found out and gave him a full scholarship for his remaining time.
Shortly after that Ken and Val found out Val was pregnant – with twins! Ken took a not-so-glamorous job at McDonnell Douglas, drawing instructions for plane fabricators from blueprints. He then went back to work full-time for Floats Incorporated, while still developing his art portfolio. He promised he would stay a year and being a man of integrity he did. However, on his week vacation, earned after one year of employment, he bought a suit and started looking for an art studio job. He applied at the well-known Fred Kopp Studios who loved his portfolio but didn’t have an opening. Again, God was watching out for Ken as they quickly called him back and said they had just gotten a tremendous amount of unexpected work and they could hire him after all! He made life-long friends at Fred Kopp, including Terry Huntoon, who was also a friend from Art Center, Herb Hayakawa, Jim Post, the Huerta Brothers, Roger Johnson, and Bart Doe.
After a while Ken and some friends started their own studio and formed Huntoon, Smith & Hayakawa. Other artists opened their studios on the same floor, including Roy Schroeder and Terry Smith, and a unique synergism was born.
Ken was a freelance artist for years, working for such clients as Tyco Toys, Datsun, 76 Oil, Del Monte, and other well-known corporations. He illustrated everything from Winnie-the-Pooh books to giant billboards and tiny seed packets. One of his on-going freelance clients was Mattel Toys who just loved his work. They asked him more than once to come in-house, but he resisted, hesitant to work for a big company. Finally after persistent wooing, he acquiesced, accepting a position as an art director at Mattel Toys. Mattel even bent the rules for him, letting him keep his other big freelance client, Tyco, a competing toy company, because they wanted him to come on board so badly. Here Ken made another set of enduring friends – Bob Tamura, Howie Jessor, Jeff Poznick, and Aaron Cohen, among others. He found a rich minefield of creativity at Mattel! The company loved to do unique things to spark imagination, so they would plan field trips, like a train ride to the San Diego Zoo or sponsor competitions between the different departments for outlandish things such as creating their own vehicles. It was definitely not all work and no play at Mattel! Ken loved it! He was at Mattel for 18 years before he retired in 1993. Then he continued to design toys with Morris Betty, creating dollhouses and other playthings
His family used to love to go into Toys R Us and look at all the Tyco boxes Ken illustrated, with his name scribbled in the shadows of the racing cars. He also illustrated toys that we all grew up with – the See ‘N Say pull-string toys, such as The Farmer Says and the See ‘N Say Alphabet. He designed Barbie houses and invented the Barbie car that stretches from a two-seater into a four-seater for double dating! He also worked in preschool and on boys’ toys, such as He-Man.
On the family side of things, Ken and Val lived in La Crescenta most of their married lives, after a short stint in Montrose. Zana and Curt were born – Ken and Val had their boy and girl – so it was a shock when Kim came along unexpectedly eight years later! It became a family tradition for Ken to take one of the kids out for a “date” on Saturday mornings. He would often let the kids choose the destination. One of Curtis’ favorite excursions was to the mountains where they made breakfast in the beautiful outdoors. He remembers one time on the way back down the mountain, his dad realized he didn’t have much gas so they coasted down Angeles Crest Highway achieving speeds Val surely would not have approved of! But Ken and Curt both loved it!
Curtis got his love for racing from his dad. Ken took him to the Riverside International Raceway when Curt was seven or eight years old and they spent the whole day watching the LA Times Grand Prix. Curt’s love for racing grew as he studied his dad’s rally and race books. Later on, when Curt had his 1964 yellow Corvette, he was certified through the driving school at Riverside. He took his dad, they strapped on their helmets, and screamed through the course, hitting more than 120 mph on the back stretch. Ken said he’d never experienced anything so exhilarating in his whole life.
Ken loved all types of transportation. He loved to drive and illustrate race cars, build model airplanes and work on his model railroad sets that he constructed around the family Christmas tree each year. His racing skills came into good use when he got caught in the Rodney King riots in 1992. He was coming home from Mattel with his carpool buddy, Jeff Poznick, on La Cienega Boulevard, thinking they could avoid trouble by taking that route. Suddenly they crested a hill and watched in terror as a gang of thugs pulled people out of the cars in front of them, beating them up and stealing their valuables. Ken would have none of it and saw an opportunity to pull into oncoming traffic and drive down the wrong side of the street. As soon as the thugs realized he had eluded them, they took a huge trash can and threw it at his car, breaking all the passenger side windows and showering Jeff with glass. While the car was a mess, they still had their wallets! As Jeff said later, “Everyone thought Ken was such a mild, sweet gentleman, but if someone came at him, he could become a tiger!”
Ken and Val were the models of stability, living in the same house in La Crescenta for 32 years before moving down to Laguna Niguel in 1992. They only took vacations every three or four years, but they went to fabulous locations – Europe four times, a Hawaiian cruise and tours of our great country. But Ken’s favorite vacation was in 1999 to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, when they generously took their whole family, including a friend for Jack who didn’t have a sibling or cousin his age, on the Disney cruise. They spent three days on the ship and four days at the resort and had a magical time!
Ken and Val were always involved in their grandkids’ lives, going to see Jack and Ian in their plays, listening to Coby play flute in the orchestra, and never missing a musical theater performance that Victoria and Megan were in. And the grandkids often stayed the weekends with their grandparents. Ken was so proud of each of his grandkids, recognizing their unique talents and gifts and encouraging them in their endeavors.
While he officially retired, Ken never stopped working on toys. The last few years of his life he designed an articulated ride-on horse, with complicated gears and timing mechanisms. He also designed an elaborate plan that he presented to the Great Park committee featuring a San Antonio-type Riverwalk area, complete with his own design of passenger boats that converted to dining vessels in the evening. His mind was always cogitating, always inventing. He came up with an idea of how to recharge electric cars while they are driving down the freeway just a month ago.
Ken was a great man in so many ways and a devoted follower of Jesus. He recently commented that he was the most fortunate man on earth – having such a wonderful family and living such a blessed life. While he will be missed tremendously, he has clearly left his mark on his family and friends and will live in their hearts forever.
Kim Van Vlear’s Tribute to her Dad
Hi everyone, thank you so much for coming today. When I was trying to decide what aspect of my sweet daddy to concentrate on, two themes kept running through my head: his love for creating and his love for Jesus. But it’s hard not to mention all his other wonderful qualities that were God-honoring. He was the epitome of a gentleman, holding doors open, concerned with others’ welfare, and expressing gratitude for everything. It is very fitting that his last words were “thank you” after all of us sang hymns with him the night we said goodbye. He was a loyal and loving husband, an involved, nurturing dad, and a fun, supportive grandpa. But, in addition to all these qualities, I would assert that my dad honored the God he loved through his vocation as an artist.
In the Bible, in Exodus 31 we read that God called two men by name, Bezalel and Oholiab, to be the artists to build the Tabernacle. God says of Bezalel, “I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts.” This is the first time that the Bible mentions someone being filled with the Holy Spirit. Phillip Ryken, president of Wheaton College, says: “that God was putting the blessing of his divine approval on both the arts and the artist. The calling of these artists reflects a deep truth about the character of God, namely that He Himself is the supreme Artist.”
Who among us has not marveled at the splendor of a radiant sunset or the ethereal hues of a rainbow and been reminded of God’s great artistic talent? Like Bezalel, God gifted my dad with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts. An illustrator by trade, my dad truly typified the accomplished Renaissance man, as he was also an award-winning wood worker, a toy inventor, an engineer, a landscape designer, a craftsman, a furniture maker, and even a home builder. In essence, my dad could do it all!
His love for art began as a small boy. Growing up in the Great Depression, there was very little money to put enough food on the table for the family of five, much less extra money for luxuries such as paper to draw on. My dad’s father was a train brakeman and conductor and in his ingenuity, he saved the ticket stubs for his budding artist to draw on. The back of a small train ticket stub, just about this size, served as my dad’s first canvas.
My dad also loved to do creative endeavors with my mom – they were a true creative team – my dad painting a needlepoint canvas for my mom to stitch, or designing an award-winning Halloween costume for my mom to sew. One of my favorite projects they did together was an Advent Calendar – a Christmas tree with pockets on the top and bottom for ornaments to be hung on the tree, counting down the days to Christmas. However, my mom got the pattern from a club in late November and there were no directions for the ornaments. So every night my dad would meticulously design an ornament and my mom would expertly sew it, so I would have something to pull out of a pocket each morning. Beautiful little ornaments – complete with sequins, trim and embroidery. Not only did I enjoy this calendar as a child, but it has been a cherished tradition for my girls, as well.
When my daughters were little they loved American Girl Dolls and my dad made them beautiful hand-carved and hand-painted doll armoires for their little dresses and accessories. As the girls outgrew the dolls, he transformed the armoires into elegant jewelry cases, complete with pull-out carousels for necklaces, velvet-lined drawers and a mirror. Being the humble person he was my dad would not enter these into the Orange County Fair as I wanted him to. So I took care of that and entered them myself! Both times, three years apart, he not only won the top award for a desk, cabinet or armoire made out of wood, but he won the top prize, Best of Show, for every single item made out of wood in the Orange County Fair, earning him an automatic entrance into the California State Fair. He did this twice – with both armoires. I will be so sad when the girls take these with them because they are the nicest pieces of furniture in my house.
1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” This was my dad’s motto – whatever he did, he did his very best, just like Bezalel and Oholiab, bringing glory to God through the gifts that God gave him.
My dad not only painted on canvas, but he painted on the lives and hearts of those around him. While he was a soft-spoken man, his faith was central to who he was and he often had profound things to say. I remember so clearly as a very young girl my dad teaching me that I shouldn’t just pray to God, but to Jesus. I have the strongest memory of walking away from his art studio trying this out and being very uncomfortable with it. “Dear God” sounded so right and “Dear Jesus” was just so unfamiliar. But I did it none-the-less and soon it became very natural and part of the vernacular of my prayer life.
My dad invested in my life in so many ways, often not even aware of the effect he was having on me. He and my mom modeled what a godly, spouse-honoring marriage looked like as I was growing up and then for John and I as we started our married life together. When people marvel that they were married for 64 years, I always say, “64 happy years.” He showed me through example the importance of being honest even when no one is looking, of listening and valuing others’ opinions, and how to have a good time doing anything! My dad and I shared the same sense of humor and sometimes could laugh for an insanely long time at things that no one else thought were funny!
One of the greatest things was that my parents lived just one mile away, in the same home development. This allowed us to do so many things together. Victoria, my oldest daughter, learned very quickly that Nanny and Bompa’s house was a really fun place! Since my dad designed Barbies and my mom collected them, there were Barbies everywhere in their house. As a two year old, Victoria’s fourth word was, what else? Barbie. We would go to Nanny and Bompa’s house and ring the doorbell and she would say, “Barbie! Barbie!” as we waited for them to answer the door.
One of my dad’s tools of the trade as an illustrator was his kneaded eraser. This little eraser packed a big punch as it could make pencil marks disappear without leaving behind eraser dust or smudges. Just as my dad used his kneaded eraser to rub out his mistakes, so too, God, the original Artist, had a fine eraser. Although what God created was absolutely perfect, He chose to give mankind freewill, to allow each man to choose for himself whether to love God or not. The mandatory love of a compliant puppet was not what our heavenly Father desired. He wanted men to freely choose to love Him.
When sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, it marred not only human kind, but also God’s beautiful creation. But just as my dad always had a plan to erase, change and redraw what was not correct on his canvas, so too God had a plan to erase the sins of man from the very beginning. God’s eraser was Jesus, who rubbed out the sins of the world by dying on the Cross. And as long as we acknowledge this and ask for forgiveness, Jesus will take us to live with him in heaven – just like my precious Daddy.
Five days before my dad entered heaven, Megan, my youngest daughter, was home from college and visited her Bompa, as she affectionately named him. She had recently began college at Biola University as – An art major. She brought her sketch book to share with him that day. He loved looking at all her drawings, especially the ones showing perspective. Always the consummate teacher, when he came to a page full of bubbles he asked for a pencil and proceeded to draw his own bubble, demonstrating how the light enters and exits its delicate surface. It was a precious moment.
From ticket stubs to bubbles, my dad filled canvases with beauty for over 80 years. As I look out at my family, I see his creative legacy alive and well! My brother, Curt, has made such remarkable items as a home entertainment center and a wooden kaleidoscope. His sons, Ian and Coby, have consistently blessed us with homemade Christmas gifts ranging from tie-died socks to cheese boards made out of flattened glass bottles. My sister, Zana, has illustrated beautiful Christmas cards and I still hang her darling bread dough ornaments on my tree each year. Her son, Jack, is using his creative talents in the area of post-production for TV shows. I, also, have always loved creative endeavors from sewing to scrapbooking and my daughters share my passion in these areas, as well as having their own unique interests – both of them showcasing the talents God has given them on the stage in musical theater, and Victoria through her writing, knitting and ceramics and Megan through her artwork, graphic design and keen sense of humor. Yes, my dad has left both a spiritual and a creative legacy for his beloved family.
Just days before my dad left us, he had a dream of a beautiful place, a setting so magnificent he couldn’t believe it or describe it. When asked, he answered that yes, it might have been a dream about heaven. How thoughtful and how like our God to reveal to his fellow artist a glimpse of the stunning splendor of heaven. God showed my visually-oriented dad in vivid terms the striking reality of where he was headed. I keep wondering, what vision of loveliness did God show my dad? What nuances of colors, magnificence of nature did my dad get to see then and is now experiencing in person?
I think my youngest daughter, Megan, also thought about this. One of the first texts I got after my dad died was from Megan. She said: I’m so sorry, Mommy. But I just keep thinking of him with Jesus exploring all of the brilliant colors and wonders of heaven. I bet he’s loving it!” Exactly. While we now have a huge void in our lives, my dad is having a ball in heaven, helping God paint the sunsets!
To finish up my time here I’m going to play two minutes of a children’s song that my girls and I used to sing. It’s written and performed by Dean-O, and it’s called Color Craze. If you look in your program, you can read the lyrics, printed on rainbow paper, as the song plays. Think of my dad as you listen. I hope you enjoy it.
New Color Craze
By Dean-o & the Dynamos
Can you name your favorite color? Purple, pink or tangerine
Is it really bright and groovy like a yellow submarine?
When the mysteries of eternity unfold before our eyes
God’s perfection will surround us when
We try His brand new colors on for size
Like rama lama mango mangarine
It’s a shiny sheen we’ve never seen
In the pristine, ever-clean, endless color scheme
And abba zabba dingo marmalade
It’s a groovy shade we’ve never made
In the God-made, holy-grade, brand new color craze
When you think of all the colors in the rainbow of your mind
Don’t forget that God has saved his very best for Kingdom time
Just imagine all the brilliance when you think you’ve seen it all
In the holiest of cities we will gaze upon the color free for all