Mechanic 01

Kenneth Ernest Smith

July 14, 1927 ~ December 20, 2020 (age 93)


Smith, Kenneth Ernest

July 14, 1927 – December 20, 2020. He was a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan who lived a long and productive life for 93 years.

Some people said he was an amazing person. Was it because of his strong work ethic, his vitality, that he could work almost his entire life, continuing to contribute until the last months of his life?  Or, was it because he believed in himself deeply, in his ideas, in his vision to help improve his world?  Often, with the grace of humor, he stoically accepted whatever he couldn’t change; he never tilted at windmills. With faith he created his life anew several times. He did whatever he set his mind to do and tried to show others how also.  His convictions came from inspirational Horatio Alger books in his teen years, then later Dale Carnegie classes to overcome his shy personality. As a young boy, Ken lost his father and moved with his mother and step-father to a small farm on the Canadian island of St Joseph, Ontario. It was a beautiful, wild and remote place, but deeply immersed in the Great Depression.  Hard manual labor developed his strength and character. He loved this island all his life. It was later the place of family vacations, many hunting trips – and eventually a place to build a cottage with his wife.  But it was no place for an ambitious, talented young man. He left it at age 17.

In Grand Rapids he began a long career in automotive technology for himself: 26 years as a working mechanic at Row Oldsmobile, learning everything he could; then 31 years of teaching underemployed people his trade at Grand Rapids Community College Occupational Training Program. Many student lives were turned around. He used his technical expertise to work for consumer protection as a member of Chrysler’s new arbitration board. He passionately pushed for professionalism in the auto repair business. He worked with the State of Michigan to set up new testing and mandatory certifications for working mechanics.  The after-market classes he conducted helped to keep independent garages up to date in technology. And he always enjoyed his occasional role as an expert witness in court cases.

After retirement from GRCC at age 75, Ken still had skills to share. The building and grounds of his church became his focus for the next 15 years.  It was Ken’s nature and ability to fix things, to put things right or make them work even better.  And he did so, generously and dependably.

Ken was preceded in death by his parents, Ernest and Rose (Zagelmeier) Smith; his brother, Louis Smith; his stepfather, Ford Harrison; his parents-in-law Lewis and Loretta Grey; his sister-in-law Jane Grey; and two of his grandchildren: Benjamin and Andrew VanArtsen.

His presence will be deeply missed by his beloved wife of almost 43 years, Kathryn Grey Smith. Ken dearly loved his four children and will be missed by Patricia Mary and Dewitt Reel of Alpharetta, GA; Mary Lynn VanArtsen of Ann Arbor, MI; Sally Ann Smith of Grand Rapids, MI; Kenneth Christopher Smith and Mary Kay Walker of Marne, MI.

Ken was proud of his extended family. Members include: five grandchildren: Kimberly Levenburg and Kenneth Nelson of Algonquin, IL; Lesley Guynes of Atlanta, GA; Aaron and Monica VanArtsen of Golden, CO; Cecelia Smith of Miami, FL; Lily and Kal  Ramakrishnan of Chicago, IL. Three great-grandchildren:  Cooper and Oliver Guynes of Atlanta, GA; Elliott and Sandra McGillivray of Chicago, IL.  Two great-great-grandchildren: Ariana and Dominic McGillivray of Chicago, IL. 

Also mourning his passing are his brother-in-law William Grey and Mary Ann Oosterveen of Vero Beach, FL; his dear sister-in-law Bette Bierling of Cape Coral, FL; his sister-in-law Marianne Grey of Medota, IL; as well as his niece and eight nephews: Deb Grey, Andrew Grey, Jason Vinkemulder, Rudy Vinkemulder, Benjamin Rogers, Samuel Rogers, Jonathon Rogers, Mark Costner and Nathan Costner. 

Throughout his life, Ken’s love of the outdoors replenished his spirit. Whether he hiked through the dune woods, boated along rocky shorelines in Canada, took autumn horseback trips in the mountains, hunted deer with his son or cut trees for firewood, he enjoyed it all.  And later in his old age just relaxing on his cottage porch to watch the flight of fishing ospreys or a beautiful sunset over the lake. So happy and grateful to be in his own place, the one he had dreamed of having since a teenager. A sturdy dreamer, one whose humor and wisdom will be missed.

If you wish to make a memorial in Ken’s name, please consider the Land Conservancy of West Michigan at  A celebration of his life is planned for mid-summer, specifics later.  Stories, pictures and messages for family may be shared on Ken's Tribute Wall..

To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Kenneth Ernest Smith, please visit our floral store.


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Land Conservancy of West Michigan
400 Ann St NW, Ste 102, Grand Rapids MI 49504
Tel: 1-616-451-9476

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