Kenny Smith rides his favorite horse, “Ace,” in the horse arena where he teaches riding skills with an emphasis on safety. (Pat Holder | Johnson Publications)
By Pat Holder
The Wauneta Breeze
Kenny Smith was born in his grandfather’s house in the heart of Wauneta, a house that no longer stands. He talks of his close connection with his grandfather who instilled in him the importance of taking time to help others.
Smith says his father, Wayne, was a bit more on the “driven” side, so Kenny values the balance of having a strong work ethic and putting people first. And that he does.
His first paid job, he recalled, was when he was a third-grader scooping snow for his grandfather for 5 cents. Then, as a fourth grader, he cleaned bunks at a feed lot. He said he and his siblings always worked because the family ran a clothing store and two restaurants and,“The biggest blessing folks ever gave me was they showed me how to work.”
He attended college first in McCook and later in Lincoln at the University of Nebraska where he studied Ag Ed and Animal Husbandry.
After he graduated from university, he worked as a truck driver.
Then, in 1969, Smith was drafted into service with the Army. He completed basic training in El Paso, Texas, and then was dispatched to Fort Ord, Calif. before being sent to Vietnam.
After surviving that trip, a tour which some of his good friends did not survive, he once again returned to Wauneta. His philanthropic nature resulted in Smith becoming involved with organizations like 4-H where he worked as a leader of the Range Riders for 27 years. He “rodeoed” since he was a young man leading him to become involved with teaching rodeo skills.
Smith’s stories include taking kids on trail rides that would take two full days, the first full day riding and then camping that night before riding back the next day.
Besides teaching youngsters bulldogging and hazing, he judged high school rodeos, later becoming President of the Nebraska High School Rodeo Association, a position he held for five years and said he, “enjoyed to no end.”
He served on the Wauneta School Board for 6 years and on the Fair Board for about 10 years, where he still serves. He said he believes that, “You gotta get involved because in a small community, if everybody doesn’t get involved, nothing gets done.”
Smith speaks fondly of such things as an old Dodge pickup that ended up with over 400,000 miles on it, which he used to haul boys to rodeos. One of those boys, Garrett Nokes, ended up on the professional rodeo circuit.
His speaks with immense pride about his wife, whom he has known since they were both kids, and their two daughters, who have inherited his strong work ethic.
In addition to youth, Smith has also helped a physically challenged man enjoy riding.
Smith now gives riding lessons. He built a riding arena, calling in favors from his many friends.
He says he enjoys “life, young people, old people. And if someone wants to talk to me, come do it face-to-face.” He says differences of opinion are a “good thing because they cause problems to get solved.” He adds, “If we have a rule, then we should follow it or get rid of the rule.”
Smith uses his talents to help others which he admits wouldn’t be possible except for what he says in his favorite quote, “God lets me