EATON — On Tuesday, May 10, the Preble County Council on Aging held “Senior Day” in conjunction with its annual meeting. The lunchtime event took place at the Preble County Senior Center and featured a free lunch, live entertainment, a raffle, vendor displays, and a speech by 8th district congressional candidate Warren Davidson. The afternoon’s highlight, however, was the presentation of 2016’s Senior Citizen of the Year, which went to Eaton resident Judy Smith.
The love and respect Smith has cultivated among the community was in high evidence as many shed tears during the ceremony and the crowd of over 200 leaped to its feet to applaud her.
Smith served for over 30 years as a dispatcher in the sheriff’s office. Longtime colleague Preble County Sheriff Michael Simpson introduced her, and spoke at length about their journey together with warmth and knowing humor.
“Judes — that’s what we call her,” he said, “served under five sheriffs, including myself. When I started out, I was in corrections, and we went from working on the fourth floor of the courthouse, where the jail used to be, to the new facility we’re at now.
“When I worked with Judy,” he recounted, “we worked midnight shifts, and it was just the two of us; I was responsible for the jail, Judy was responsible for dispatching. In those days, we’d maybe have 15 persons in jail any given night — I think I’ve got 67 in there now. A lot of crazy stuff goes on during midnights, and in those 30-plus years, Judy dealt with the good, the bad, and the ugly. That was way before [the 9-1-1 system], and when the phone rang, you didn’t know if it was going to be a non-emergency or something bad. You picked up with no idea what was on the other end. I want to tell you, it takes a very special person to be able to do that for so long and go out on a positive note.”
Senior citizen services manager Stacey Copes, speaking before Sheriff Simpson, found herself choked up as she told the audience about her love for Smith.
“Honest. Dependable. Outgoing. Just plain fun to be around,” said Copes. “She’s seen it all. She’s had cancer and is still in remission. She nearly died in a terrible car wreck and they said she was going to be a vegetable, but she has proven everyone wrong, and she’s done it all with humor and honesty. When I came to the senior center, this was the first lady I met, and I knew right away that I would never forget her.
“She is one of my heroes.”
Simpson, too, mentioned the car accident, noting that Smith “was seriously injured, came back to work, and she’s standing here with us today.”
Simpson called Smith to come to the podium and stand beside him during the second half of his speech. They embraced as he spoke, and she beamed and laid her head on his shoulder.
“I spent my first 18 months working evening shift with Judy,” he said. “When we had down periods, we would talk. We talked about everything. It was an honor and a pleasure.”
Smith was presented with a bouquet of flowers and shown the addition of her name to a plaque which bears those of each Senior Citizen of the Year and hangs in the county courthouse, but when it was Smith’s turn to take the podium, she demurred.
Overcome with emotion, eyes sparkling, it seemed there were many words in her heart, but the ones she spoke were simple:
“Thank all of you very much.”
Reach Duante Beddingfield at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @duanteb_RH.