March 20, 2013 - Bob Smith, Oakland County's oldest unelected unofficial, celebrated his 95th birthday last week in Lakeville.
Lakeville Mayor Bob Smith shares a moment with his adopted great grandson, Mark Sears, a 7-month-old from Rochester Hills. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
Friends and family gathered at the Lakeville United Methodist Church (UMC) Sunday afternoon to honor Smith with song, well wishes and of course, lots of cake.
Being an unincorporated village, Lakeville has no elected or formal leadership. But for years, Smith, whose birthday was actually March 16, has been regarded by many folks as the town's mayor.
That's because Smith always has a smile on his face and he loves to chat with everyone he encounters about everything from local politics to the weather to their families.
He never fails to lighten the mood of those around him with his old-fashioned charm, quick wit and gentle manner. His pleasant banter and compliments make people feel at ease.
Smith lives by a simple philosophy – "respect people and be nice to them."
"Everybody wants to be respected and they want to know that somebody likes them," he said.
"He's just a friendly, all-American, down-to-earth guy – that's why we like him," said Bob Godkin, of Addison. "He's easy to like."
"He's a good friend and he helps people when they need it," said his eldest son, Bob Smith, Jr., who came all the way from Madison, Wisconsin to celebrate his father's birthday.
Smith arrived in Addison when he was in his 20s to manage the Travis Farm, an 800-acre spread on Mack Rd. that used to raise sheep and turkeys. He worked there for 26 years.
Like any good mayor, Smith likes to make sure everything's running smoothly in Lakeville, his home since 1969. Everyday, he walks up to the township hall and public library to visit with the employees and anybody else who might be there.
"He makes his rounds," said Addison Deputy Supervisor Sherry Beens. "We look forward to it."
Beens called Smith her "inspiration."
"He's sharp as a tack at 95," she said. "He loves every day. He exercises every day. He keeps his mind active. He's aware of current events. He likes people, old and young. He's just well-rounded for someone his age."
Although Smith is always quite genial to everyone he encounters that doesn't mean he simply tells folks what they want to hear.
"He's honest as the day is long and he knows what he believes in," said his son.
"He'll tell it like it is," said Addison resident Gwen Godkin.
"If he doesn't like something the preacher says, he lets him know right in church," added Bob Godkin.
Rev. Bill Schuman, pastor of Lakeville UMC, doesn't seem to mind. He values Smith's input and presence. "He's not afraid to speak up if he disagrees with you. He's going to say his opinion," he said. "That, to me, is just so refreshing, to have somebody say what they feel and what they think."
Smith comes to every Sunday service, every Bible study and every special event that he can at the church. "If he doesn't have a doctor's appointment or something like that, Bob is always here," Schuman said.
"You can't add up everything that Bob brings (to the congregation). He brings so much and is so caring. We're very appreciative of Bob and the sense of tradition he brings to the church."
As Smith has gotten older, the community has basically adopted him, seeing to his needs, helping him whenever they can and keeping tabs on him to make sure he's all right.
"He's not afraid to ask people for help and he accepts it graciously," Beens said. "If he doesn't come (to the township hall for his daily visit), we call to find out where he's at, what's going on. If he's not coming, we've got him trained to where he calls us."
"I can't get him to move out to assisted living because he's so well taken care of here," said his son. "Yesterday morning, a neighbor shoveled (the snow in) his driveway. He just came and did it."
"It take a village to raise Bob," Beens said.
"That's right – they take care of me all the time," Smith replied.
Smith attributes his longevity to his daily walks and "the people around me that love me."
If that's the case, then it looks like he just might live forever.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.