Smitty’s Legacy of Care

Charles Smith

Charles "Smitty" Smith

If you’ve lived in Sioux Falls long enough, odds are you might remember Charles Smith.

“Smitty,” as he was often called, wasn’t a big guy — he was about 5’6” and weighed about 126 pounds. But his personality? Well, it was larger than life.

Smitty was president and CEO of Smitty’s Cleaning, the business he first started back in 1945. At 95 years old, he was still working seven days a week, loading buckets, scrubbers and brushes into his 1994 Chevy Lumina, driving from job site to job site to wash large plate-glass windows for various businesses around town.

Randy Hascall, a former reporter who once interviewed Smitty, likened his window washing movements to an orchestra conductor.

His hands moved “upward, sideways, downward in one continuous motion. His baton is a squeegee, his audience a passer-by,” Hascall wrote.

It might have looked graceful, but make no mistake: washing windows was hard work.

But Smitty stuck with it and he didn’t complain. He knew how far he’d come, he knew how lucky he was and he knew how he wanted to be remembered.

So before he passed away in 2018 at the age of 101, Smitty worked with Howard Paulson, an attorney with Christopherson, Anderson, Paulson and Fideler, LLP., who referred him to the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation to establish his legacy plan.

A legacy plan is, essentially, a plan for giving after your life. Those who establish legacy plans with the Community Foundation become members of its Legacy Society, a designation for individuals and couples who have committed to investing in the future of their community through a planned gift.

“For those of us who are privileged to serve the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation, there’s nothing more humbling than welcoming someone into our Legacy Society,” said Andy Patterson, president. “That’s because when someone shares their legacy, they’re sharing their story — a reflection of who they are, the values that have shaped them and their hopes and dreams for the future. To be part of that process is deeply meaningful for us.”

Charles "Smitty" Smith
Charles "Smitty" Smith launched his cleaning business in 1945.

Smitty’s Story

Smitty’s story began in 1917 just outside of Jackson, Mississippi. It’s a story of hard work, heartbreak, ingenuity, grit and, perhaps most of all, compassion for others.

It’s also tale of one man’s desire to be part of something bigger than himself — a yearning to give back; to help influence meaningful change and to make tomorrow’s world better than today’s.

Smitty grew up picking cotton during early mornings that stretched into long days under the hot Mississippi sun. The more cotton he picked, the more money he made, so after completing the second grade, Smitty left school for good. His parents died when he was young, so as a teenager, he made the decision to move north to Chicago, where eventually he took a job as a restaurant cook. He had dreams of making it to New York City, but ended up joining the Army instead, eventually landing on a base in South Dakota where he worked as an Army cook.

After his discharge, he worked as a café and hotel cook and collected tin cans off the street to save money to start Smitty’s Cleaning in 1945. He would go on to spend the next 67 years running that business and raising his family, along with his wife, Dorothy.

Charles Smith
Smitty was still washing windows in 2009. Photo by Dave Eggen.

Building a Business

Like his personality, his approach to business was also one-of-a-kind.

Denny Betz, owner of Betz Blinds, once recalled how Smitty pulled up to his building on south Minnesota Avenue one afternoon and began washing the windows.

At that moment, Betz had no idea who he was.

After he finished, Smitty walked inside, introduced himself, shook Betz’s hand and asked how he liked the windows.

“He said that was our first washing, and that it would be free,” Betz said in a 2009 interview with the Sioux Falls Business Journal. From that moment on, Betz Blinds was one of Smitty’s customers.

Those who knew him well said Smitty was someone who genuinely cared about people. He followed his moral compass and did the right thing — even if doing the right thing wasn’t always the easiest way.

Gloria Lund recalled living near Smitty when she and her husband, Doug, were young parents to a baby boy.

“Doug got laid off from his job and we were desperate … wondering how we were going to pay the rent and buy food for the baby,” Gloria wrote in a memorial after Smitty’s death.

Smitty learned of the situation and offered Doug a job.

“We felt like he saved our life,” Gloria wrote. “We never forgot what he did for us and every so often when we would see him cleaning windows downtown, we would jump out of the car and thank him. As far as we are concerned … if this world was full of Smittys, it would be a better world.”

While most knew him as a spirited and hardworking entrepreneur, it’s clear that Smitty’s real legacy is one of care and compassion for others. Today, his estate gift stands as one of the largest in Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation history. Thanks to Smitty’s endowment, local nonprofits including the Salvation Army, Children’s Inn, the Sioux Empire United Way and more are receiving critical, ongoing support — proof that his legacy of care lives on.

Legacy Planning: 101

Today, the Sioux Falls area is a thriving, vibrant community thanks, in part, to Smitty and hundreds like him whose legacy plans — plans for giving after one’s life — have created important endowments that provide meaningful and vital ongoing support to nonprofits throughout our area.

So, how does one establish a legacy plan?

It’s easier than you think.

You begin by planning today to give tomorrow. It starts by setting up a non-binding fund agreement to accept future assets such as life insurance policies, IRA or 401K plans, a will or trust, and more. There is no fee to establish a legacy plan and the agreement may be changed as your charitable wishes evolve.

After your life, the Community Foundation will carry out your philanthropic vision and ensure that your charitable wishes are fulfilled by either making distributions to charities as directed or, by supporting one or multiple charities in perpetuity through your endowment — a fund that is invested to provide returns that replenish the dollars distributed to charity each year.

“You don’t need to be a millionaire or have a vast estate to leave a legacy that’s powerful, meaningful and that lasts forever,” Patterson said. “Planned giving is an opportunity to express your core values while providing the maximum benefit to your community and the organizations that mean the most to you.”

What’s more, Patterson said, a legacy plan also allows you to optimize important estate and financial advantages — allowing you to give in the most effective and beneficial manner.

What do you want your legacy to be? Contact the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation today to learn more about planned giving and for help in creating your legacy.