Eleanor "Ms. Elly" Smith

Eleanor Smith "Ms. Elly"
Born in Independence, Missouri and raised in Oak Grove, Missouri, Eleanor Smith, or “Ms. Elly,” as she is affectionately known, can truly show us a thing or two!

She was the older of two children born to a candy/tobacco salesman/dairy farmer and homemaker (who incidentally was terrified of farm animals) and later, continued to retain her position in the family as oldest of seven whole, step and half siblings.

She graduated high school in 1946 and attributes her great love of Country to WWII and seeing neighbors and older classmates being called into military service. Her recollection of one young man who returned home, greatly affected by his war experiences, still brings tears to her eyes. Ms. Elly reminds us that in those days, citizens were well versed in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. A good understanding of U.S. History was expected and it saddens and greatly concerns her that so much has changed in “The Best Country in the World.” It is her belief our youngsters sorely lack in this area because their parents and teachers are unable to pass on knowledge and information they themselves were never taught.

Coming from a family strong in military tradition, her patriotism is one of her most defining qualities. Prick her finger and “Ms. Elly,” is likely to bleed red, white and blue, so it isn’t too surprising to learn she served as Crew Chief in the Air Defense Command Control Center for the U.S. Women’s Air Force from 1950-1953. While she was stationed at Kirkland AFB in Albuquerque, N.M., Ms. Elly met and fell in love with a fellow military man, O.J. Smith. She resigned her own military service to marry him, as was required in those days and stayed behind for a short time when O.J. was transferred to what is now known as Eielson AFB. After O.J.’s arrival he called her saying, “Honey, I’ve found Paradise!” She arrived in Alaska in 1957 with two little kids and one big dog. Later their third of three children joined them in their 2 room “kitchen and trailer-less” 12 Mile Village wanagan.

Ms. Elly has done a lot of things since her arrival in Alaska, but her favorite jobs were selling advertising for the News-Miner and Commercial Printing and her days at Interior Airways for Jim Magoffin. Her position as combination ticket agent/flight announcer/attendant often resulted in her putting in more air-time hours than the pilots!

She and her husband owned and operated Umiat Enterprises on the North Slope, specifically located on the Colville River, from 1975 to the mid-90’s. They worked extremely hard and put in many long hours providing food and lodging, light aircraft support, expediting and crew changing services, while maintaining 13 weather stations scattered across the North Slope.

Ms. Elly has faithfully served Santa’s Seniors for many years. As a Board Member, she has held every office but President, has served on various committees, cooked for The Breakfast Place and assisted in the Center’s office and Gift Shop. Most recently, she co-chaired the Anniversary Edition of the Santa’s Seniors Cookbook.

Active since 1958, she calls the Veteran’s of Foreign Wars Weldon M. Rucker Post 10029 at 16 Mile her second home. Right now she is a Trustee but has held many offices throughout the years at both the local and national level. This summer she fulfilled a long awaited dream of visiting VFW’s Alaska House at the National Home for Children in Eaton Rapids, Michigan.

Ms. Elly’s idea of a perfect day is being with family and friends any time of year, as long as it isn’t too hot. She actually prefers cold weather because it “perks her up.” Her choice is appropriate, having lived for 3 years on Barter Island where she helped transplant musk oxen. She is a successful polar bear hunter and still maintains friendships with people who live all over the State in various remote areas.

Ms. Elly has quite a collection of “adrenalin producing” flight stories that are truly not for the faint of heart or for anyone with impending flight plans! Somehow, this seems appropriate for someone married to a man who, according to Ms. Elly, “loved flying, fishing, flying, hunting and flying!” They shared 43 years together before O.J.’s death in 1999. Now, she is the proud “GGma”, which stands for “Great-Grandma” to 3 grandchildren and 1 ½ great-grandkids, all of whom were born and live in Alaska.

Although Ms. Elly is a very busy lady, she continues to make time to share a smile and lend a hand. She lives the lesson her uncles taught her as a small child: to not judge people too quickly.

Interview & Story by Francie Cork
Photo by Clarence Schulte

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