Loyal Contributor to the United Way of Central Oklahoma
These days, Jeanne Hoffman Smith spends a lot of her time thinking about time. There’s that time that she married Boston W. Smith, just two weeks after her twentieth birthday; the time she first went door-to-door to ask for donations to – what was then called United Fund; and the time she talked a wealthy woman out of a new pair of shoes. For Jeanne, who turns 90 this September, time is one of the most important gifts she could ever give. In fact, she plans every day by asking the question, “What’s the best use of my time today?” On this particular day, Jeanne chose to spend some of her time discussing philanthropy, how she became a giver, and how advice about a woodpile has shaped her life since she was a little girl living in Chandler, Oklahoma.
A loyal contributor to United Way for more than five decades, Jeanne’s generous spirit is something that has been with her almost her entire life. It’s something she inherited from her father, who she says made a living out of giving. As an employee of the Union National Bank, in Chandler, Jeanne says her dad was famous for his generosity. “People remembered him always, because he was always loaning money, even without collateral…” Jeanne reminisced. “He did this all throughout the depression.” Mr. Hoffman became a beacon of light to many people in one of America’s darkest times. “He would give just what they could at the bank… it was a reflection of his trust in the goodness of people; he always knew they would repay the loans when they were able”, she remembered. “People who lived on the farms and people who lived in town loved him… they all said my dad saved their lives.” And that, Jeannie said, is how she learned the importance of giving and the impact it has on neighbors, the community, and on a person’s own soul.
Jeanne says she first started being charitable as a young child, even though she says her family had very little money at that time. She would pick vegetables out of her family’s garden and give them away. She began giving back to the community when she married her husband, Attorney Boston W. Smith, at a young age. She says he was very community oriented, and was heavily involved with important causes and events. In 1950, Jeanne joined the Junior League, which is where, for the first time, she learned how to ask people for money to support important causes. She recalls walking door-to-door in local neighborhoods to get donations, but admits, at first, the money wasn’t easy to raise. “At that time, there weren’t women really that worked that much… they would say ‘honey, I can’t give anything because my husband takes care of all that’ and I’d hear that at every single home. Pretty soon, I was getting more and more angry about that.” That all changed one day when Jeanne knocked on the door of a family friend, who she knew had money to spare. “I asked her for a contribution to the United Fund. She said ‘yes, I’ll give $20.’” Noticing that the woman was wearing a very expensive pair of shoes, Jeanne decided to make a bold move, “I said could you give me just the cost of a pair of shoes like that and you could do without one pair of shoes this year?” It worked, because that day she walked away with $120. So, Jeanne said, “We started asking people if they could match something that they have that they could do with one less of that year… and that was one of the ways we started getting a yes instead of a no.” As Jeanne remembered the story about the woman and her shoes, she says it was a turning-point for both of them. “She felt so good about the fact that she had helped and that she had given more” she said. “Then she ended up, almost single-handedly, funding a major hospital here in town, and became a major contributor to United Way as well.”
As a mother, Jeanne tried to instill the importance of giving in her three children, who she says are all givers. “I think my kids have just constantly seen us doing things to try to provide a safety net” said Jeanne. “I think part of giving is to provide a safety net for those who don’t have means.” But she also tried to teach them there are many different ways of giving. “I’m going to be 90 in September, so the giving of time, to me, is very important… it’s not just financial… if you don’t have the money to give, there are other things that can be given… volunteer.”
Jeanne is a giver in so many ways; she gives her time, her money, and nearly nine decades worth of knowledge and a listening ear to anyone who wants or needs it. But, for her, “giving is a way of receiving and I think that is very important for people to understand.” As she talked about a lifetime worth of memories there was one, in particular, that she says shaped the life that she has tried to lead: “my father’s message of life to me that he didn’t want me to ever forget: Your job in life is to always leave more wood on the woodpile than was there when you came. Wood could be whatever kind of project you were involved in. So that’s why I got involved!” Jeanne believes that when you have the means to give, you appreciate it more when you put it to work helping people who need it. “It’s not what you have, it’s how you use it.” That is why she says she really believes in United Way and its mission because, like her father’s advice, United Way is always trying to leave more wood on the woodpile.