A guardian (and his guardian angel)
We all count on our guardian angels to help save us from the eternal flames. Silverton Mayor John A. Smith also credits angelic aid for helping him and three family members survive a temporal but terrifying inferno.
That blaze, apparently ignited by an electrical malfunction, erupted at Mr. Smith’s house early Sunday morning, April 3, amid a night of brutal winds and power failures in the area. The mayor and his wife, Willa, had fallen asleep after hosting a neighborhood cookout at the home that previous evening. Their son heard smoke alarms just after 2 a.m., then awoke the others. All four people in the house escaped without injury.
“Smoke alarms woke us up, and angels were guiding us,” Mr. Smith said.
Reconstruction continues on the house, where fire and water damage all but destroyed the interior.
“We’re still not back on the property,” Mr. Smith said. “We’ve been notified that it won’t be until November or December of this year.” For now, the family is living in a Blue Ash apartment.
Mr. Smith, 76, has long been active in the civic affairs of Silverton, a village of more than 4,500 residents in Cincinnati’s northeast suburbs. He was a village councilman for 12 years, vice mayor for six, and has been mayor for a decade.
The mayor grew up in Cincinnati, graduating from Robert A. Taft High School in the city’s West End neighborhood. After earning a bachelor’s in business administration from the University of Cincinnati, he began a successful management career at the old General Motors plant in nearby Norwood.
He stayed at GM for 25 years, enough to qualify when the automaker offered buyouts. “I didn’t have the age, but I had the time, and they were giving out those golden parachutes,” Mr. Smith recalls, laughing. “That didn’t hurt my feelings.”
He went on to work as a paraprofessional in Cincinnati Public Schools and is now retired, but active in a number of charitable efforts as well as in politics.
Mr. Smith converted to Catholicism when he was in his early 20s. “I wanted to get closer to the truth,” he said. “I went to several denominations, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, but I enjoyed the Catholic service, and I’ve been Catholic ever since.” A committed convert, he took deaconate studies at the Athenaeum and is a graduate of De Sales School of Theology in Washington, D.C.
His memberships include the Knights of Columbus and Silverton Block Watch Association. He serves as an executive co-chair of the Hamilton County Democratic Party and has been a chaplain at Bethesda North Hospital for more than 20 years.
Mr. Smith’s volunteer activities have included various projects at his parish, Church of the Resurrection. He was a longtime member of St. Mark’s in Evanston before that parish combined with three others to form Resurrection. To date, parishioners there have pledged 140% of their local goal for One Faith, One Hope, One Love, and, as a former Athenaeum man, Mr. Smith feels a special affinity for that element of the campaign. “It’s where you’re going to get your future leaders,” he said.
The mayor’s family includes five children and 11 grandchildren, and he’s legal guardian to five wards by way of a nine-year association with the Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio.
In his capacity as a legal guardian, “the only thing I don’t handle is their money,” he said.
”I do things like make nursing home and other arrangements for them. Three are in one nursing facility, one is in a different nursing facility, and one is in a group home.”
Mayor Smith leads a municipality best known as the home of Meier’s Wine Cellars, Ohio’s oldest and largest winery. Silverton’s transition from rural hamlet to bedroom community goes back to the 1830s, when a rail company ran a line through town, carrying passengers as well as freight.
Meier’s set down roots as a grape juice company in the early 20th century, locating in Silverton for proximity to the railroad and to vineyards that covered a site now home to Kenwood Towne Centre shopping mall.
Wine-making followed, but grape juice assured Meier’s survival through Prohibition. During the 1930s, the company erected an imposing bottle-shaped vending stand known as “The Jug,” a Silverton icon before falling victim to termites. For a time beginning in 1984, the company marketed a beverage called “The Silverton Cooler.”
The village, especially given its small size, also is remarkable as the boyhood home of two sports Hall of Famers: football’s Roger Staubach and baseball’s Barry Larkin.
Mr. Smith has called Silverton his home for almost 30 years. “I’ve been interested in community involvement going back to high school, in trying to make things better for all of us,” he said. “I enjoy working with people. When you’re mayor, you work with a variety of people and personalities. You have to enjoy it.”
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