Those who knew her either briefly or long-term can easily testify that Hallie Hendrieth Smith always had your best interest at heart.
“She got on you and she got on me,” admitted her granddaughter, Bernadeia Johnson. “There were times when she was telling us we can do better or do something different. She could be warm, stern, exacting and she also can be loving.” Smith passed away at home April 27 at age 99.
Born and raised on a farm in Orville, Alabama, Smith came to Minneapolis in the early 1950s after her first husband, the late Rev. Martin Hendrieth was assigned as pastor of Wayman AME Church in North Minneapolis. Along with her first lady duties, Smith resumed her teaching career, which first began in the segregated South. She was hired by Minneapolis Public Schools as an elementary school teacher. She was later promoted to principal where she served for 27 years until she retired in 1981.
In retirement, however, she earned her doctorate and served as the founding director of a Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches-operated after-school tutoring program for local students of all ages.
After she met and married her second husband, the Rev. Noah Smith, for 30 years the two were a tag team of sorts, as they served tirelessly in the church — he as a preacher and teacher until his health became a deciding factor. He died last September at age 107. She was a longtime member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and served over the years in many local, district, connectional and global leadership roles.
She also was a lifetime member of the AME Women’s Missionary Society. She always was willing to speak on church history and educational topics at a drop of a hat.
“They both were active up until they died,” noted Johnson of her grandparents.
“Accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative” was Smith’s favorite saying and life mantra. She proudly watched her granddaughter, Johnson, follow her lead and become a teacher and an administrator in Memphis. She served as Minneapolis superintendent as well.
“She was a phenomenal woman,” said Johnson. “My grandmother was a beautiful woman inside and out, and she believed in the Lord and believed in the potential of people. She shared her gifts broadly with everyone. Everyone called her Grandmother.”
Smith was very careful not to reveal her real age, often responding, when someone asked how old she was, that she was “over 25.”
“When we were kids we would call her up and say ‘We’re the census bureau and we need to know the age of the oldest female in the house,’” said Johnson. “She would laugh about it. I think as she got older she didn’t want people to see her age, and they could predict what they thought she was capable of doing. She was able to be what people needed at the time.”
Smith was the last remaining survivor of seven siblings who, along with her husband, parents and other relatives, preceded her in death. She is survived by her grandchildren, Dr. Bernadeia Johnson, Donna Gingery, Gregg Clemons and many other relatives and friends.
A special visitation will be held Wednesday, May 4, 4-7 pm at Washburn McReavy Funeral Home, 4239 W Broadway Ave., in Robbinsdale. Her home-going service will be at noon Thursday, May 5 at St. James AME Church, 624 West Central Avenue, St. Paul. Visitation also will be held prior to the service at 11 am.
Johnson asks in honor of her grandmother that women wear hats to the service. Smith loved hats and rarely was seen in public without one.
“I really believe that she will be missed by this family and this community,” said Johnson.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.