Charles Granville Smith
April 23, 1929 – August 31, 2019
He was preceded in death by his wife, Nelle Mae Smith; sister, Eleanor Hand; brother, Edward Smith. He is survived by his wife, Susan L. (Safford) Smith; children: John J. Smith, Thomas E. (Patty) Smith, Ronald E. Smith, Jacqueline Kuper, Patricia Smith, Sally (Mark) Roy-Smith; stepchildren, Steven J. (Heather) Stafford, Stacey L. (Robert) McKelvey, M.D.; thirteen grandchildren; six stepgrandchildren; eight great-grandchildren; sisters, Marjory Jean Sorensen and Corra Edith Fisher.
Family receives friends: Tuesday, September 3, 2019, 5:00-8:00PM, West Center Chapel. Funeral Service: Wednesday, 11:00AM, Faith Presbyterian Church, 8100 Giles Rd. Interment: Hillcrest Memorial Park with Military rites by Benson VFW Post 2503. Memorials are suggested to A.R.C.H. or American Cancer Society.
A born-and-bred Nebraskan who personified the American Dream, Charles Granville Smith – our Chucky Baby – valued family and hard work above everything. A passionate husband and father to six kids, he founded a homebuilding business that became the largest in Nebraska. His developments changed the landscape of Sarpy County in particular, where he put down roots and donated land for the area’s first hospital. Fun-loving, witty, competitive, and mischievous, he often held rooms captive with stories from his richly lived life.
Chuck grew up on 52nd and Poppleton and then a 14-acre truck farm on 42nd and B, with three sisters and a brother. After graduating from Central High School in 1946, he joined the Army, playing football for the military team while stationed in Japan. The Red Cross flew him back to Omaha to visit his polio-stricken dad. After Chuck was discharged, he returned to the farm to help his mom and siblings before marrying his late wife, Nellie. Their fiery relationship had him jumping on the fast track to fatherhood.
The young couple had six kids (John, Jacqueline, Patricia, Thomas, Sally, and Ronald) in eight years while Chuck worked at a meat packing plant and while working as a switchman for the Chicago and Northwestern railroad. The people he met working those jobs — like DP Charlie, a “displaced person” from Lithuania— would animate Chuck’s stories for the rest of his life. The work was a struggle, and he took on odd construction jobs to support his family. With encouragement and help from DP Charlie, he built a house for his family. Then he built another and sold the first. He realized he could make as much selling just two houses as he did in an entire year making $16 a day on the railroad.
From that single house sold in the early 1950s, Chuck built an empire. He didn’t attend college, but he had a sharp business mind and saw opportunities where others didn’t. By the early ‘70s, Smith had carved out a substantial foothold in homebuilding, and had expanded to land development, apartment management, and realty. He was the first in the state to fully take advantage of federal housing subsidies to reduce home and land costs, and saw a need for homes geared toward first-time and lower-income homebuyers — a market his company dominated for years with developments like Brookhaven, Briarwood, Timbercreek, and Pheasant Run.
Despite his myriad successes, Chuck humbly believed he hadn’t accomplished anything special. “Construction is really a simple business,” he said in an interview in 1972. “Most anyone with drive, common sense, and faith in themselves could have done what I’ve done.”
And some did, including Chuck’s own sons, as well as those employees he treated like family. Several of his most trusted managers went on to create their own businesses in construction, and John, Tom, and Ron built thriving real estate careers. Chuck also kept an eye on the community that helped him succeed by donating land and resources for community-centered and philanthropic projects, including Midland Hospital (the first in then-underdeveloped Sarpy County), Faith Presbyterian and Calvary Christian churches, and Mead High School.
After Nellie passed away from cancer in 1986, Chuck became the quintessential bachelor. He stepped away from CSI, continued development projects on his own, and focused on the leisure activities he’d missed while working twelve-hour days. Chuck was an avid hunter, fisherman, and tennis player. He loved dancing the West Coast Swing and listening to all kinds of music, but especially the blues. His infectious lust for life led him to travel the world, and he attended every Grand Slam tennis tournament with his second wife, Susan. They also loved hosting family and friends at their second home in Fountain Hills, Arizona.
Even in his later years, Chuck lived in the fast lane — literally. He kept driver’s licenses from three states (Nebraska, Arizona, and Montana) to dodge the tickets that inevitably came after his lead foot carried him (and his Lexus) away. He found great joy in watching his grandkids and great grandkids play sports, act, and dance, and he often generously contributed to their education funds (while bragging about their exceptional abilities, and great genes, of course).
Chuck celebrated his 90th birthday with more than 100 guests — a lifetime’s worth of family, friends, and colleagues — at the Henry Doorly Zoo in May. When he was diagnosed with colon cancer in mid-August, our Chucky Baby declined treatment, asking ‘Is the juice worth the squeeze?”’ and passed peacefully shortly after listening to his beloved Husker football team win one last time on Saturday. His absence leaves a hole that can’t be filled.