Smeak’s service and dedication to the university was commemorated in 1990, when she received the Emily Wirsing Kelly Leadership Award. That same year, she was appointed to the Margaret Hunt Hill Distinguished Chair in the Humanities, which, said Lott, “was a way of honoring Ethel’s demonstrated commitment to students and alumni, and to the institution itself.”
Smeak’s devotion to her alma mater continued after her retirement in 1995 until her death. Anne Holland, director of special projects at the Office of Alumni Engagement, worked with Smeak throughout that time. A highlight was when the two co-founded the Grafton Society — a special Reunion organization that recognizes MBU alumni of 50 or more years.
“I came to be dear, dear friends with Ethel,” said Holland. She recalled Smeak as a “straight-talking, fun-loving, intelligent, loyal, supportive, and articulate friend. She had this comic flair, and loved humor and wit. She didn’t have a pompous bone in her body, and didn’t like people who took themselves too seriously.”
Smeak was survived by a troop of nieces and nephews, and their children. The former remember her as a loving aunt that played a major role in their lives and always went out of her way to attend milestone events.
“Ethel’s calling was teaching and she devoted her life to Mary Baldwin College and her beloved students,” the family wrote in a commemorative statement. “She never married, or had children of her own, but it can be said she had many that she taught and mentored through her life. Their deeds and accomplishments can — and should — be viewed as her greatest legacy.”