Volunteer Voices - Jack Smith
Mar 05, 2013
Jack Smith grew up on the southeast side of Chicago, near Calumet Park. He recalls spending much of his waking hours playing in the park as a youngster. His family home was located near the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroad high lines. Jack remembers swinging from a “Tarzan rope,” off of the highline hill, about 20 feet above street level, which also served as the neighborhood kids’ sledding hill in winter. They also built forts in a nearby abandoned work yard of a local construction company. “Back then there were still prairies and vacant lots, so you could just go out and use your imagination,” said Jack.
Jack always loved the outdoors. He was in Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Explorer Scouts, and recalls camping in scenic areas, both summer and winter. “I remember camping when it was like an ‘Operation Deep Freeze’ at the Indiana Dunes,” said Jack. “It was a challenge, but in many ways it was a lot of fun.” Jack also remembers camping in Ontario, Canada and Glacier National Park in Montana. He said those experiences opened his mind to being outdoors. “I realized there was a whole world out there and you just needed to go and take advantage of it,” he said.
Jack also recalls gardening around the house as a youth. “When I was a kid, my mom sent me out to the garden and told me to pull weeds. Before long, she had to show me the difference between a flower and a weed because I was pulling a lot of flowers,” he said. Today, he continues to garden as an adult and has always grown vegetables. To teach his children where food comes from, he and his wife went to visit a farm so they could see the source of their meals.
Through training in both vocational school and the U.S. Air Force, Jack ultimately became a licensed aircraft mechanic, an occupation that kept him busy for 44 years. But even before retiring, he felt the need to give back to the community. He remembers helping neighbors with gardening needs and trimming trees as a certified TreeKeeper. “Then I heard about North Park Village Nature Center and decided to help out there,” he said.
Jack says he enjoys both the camaraderie at the Nature Center and being outdoors. “It’s a great bunch of people with varied backgrounds, and they accept you for who you are,” said Jack. It has also given Jack a chance to learn about what needs to be done to keep the preserve going, and he enjoys participating in that. “I love the accomplishment of seeing an area cleaned up and renewed, and actually being a part of it,” he said. We love the fact that Jack gives his time to keep the North Park Village Nature Center a vibrant place in Chicago.