Prolific Arizona historian Dean Smith passes into state's history - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Prolific Arizona historian Dean Smith passes into state's history

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Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2012 6:20 pm | Updated: 10:12 pm, Thu Jul 12, 2012.

Arizona and especially Tempe have lost a fine writer, historian and storyteller -- Dean Smith, the prolific author of more than 20 books, many of them specialized histories of our state.

Dean Ellis Smith, a tall and gentle man, died Saturday, July 7 at Banner Desert Medical Center. He turned 89 in April. He was first hospitalized in June from failing health. He is survived by his wife Jean.

A memorial service will be 10 am. Saturday, July 28 at Skirm Auditorium at Friendship Village, 2625 E. Southern Ave., Tempe.

Dean was an Honorary member of the Kiwanis Club of Friendship Village and he often accompanied Ralph Lingerfelt to KCOT meetings.

One of his last books was "Arizona Nuggets," a fascinating book in which each page focused on often little-known pieces of Arizona history and its places. Among chapters were "The Great Camel Experiment," "The Peddler of Gila City," "Miranda: He Gave Us Our Rights," "Ma! The Man Killed Santa Claus," "George W.P. Hunt: Arizona's Perennial Governor," and "Arizona Declares War on California." Arizona historian Marshall Trimble wrote the forward. Trimble wrote, "Dean Smith has been an Arizonan for more than seven decades. Mount Baldy still had hair when he arrived.... He has been a frequent contributor or Arizona Highways magazine and edited books for the magazine's book division and the University of Arizona Press.

"Dean grew up in Glendale and has been an eyewitness to the greatest transitional period in Arizona history," Trimble continued. "During his varied career, he has been a sports writer, university administrator and Air Force Reserve colonel. He has a gift for story-telling and a writing style that pulls the reader into the story. He has a knack for knowing what interests people."

Many of the thousands of copies of "Arizona Nuggets" were distributed to Arizona schools, and Dean gave the Kiwanis Club of Friendship Village rights to sell "Arizona Nuggets" as a fund-raiser. Kiwanis Club of Tempe purchased many and made it the "gift" for weekly speakers.

David Nye, president of that club, notes, "Profits to our club service foundation have been in excess of $9,000. Close to 4,000 copies are in circulation. They went to more than a dozen service clubs in Arizona, mostly Kiwanis, but also Lions and Rotary, have purchased Nuggets for their own fund-raising purposes and/or for placement in schools. Three churches have sold Nuggets to raise money for youth projects. Nuggets is available at the Arizona Highways gift shop, in several book stores and at Tempe Sister Cities program has gifted the book to many of its program members. Arizona Nuggets new Centennial Edition was put in circulation this past February," David said.

Among Dean's 22 books, was "Tempe: Arizona Crossroads," published in 1990, with Peggy Bryant handling the business biographies. Others were "The Goldwaters of Arizona," "Arizona Pathways," "The Meteor Crater Story," "Arizona Goes to War," "Arizona Ghost Towns and Mining Camps," "Barry Goldwater: The Biography of a Conservative," and "Brothers Five," a history of the Babbitts of Arizona.

From the autumn day in 1940 when he arrived as a freshman on the campus of Arizona State College, Dean had been an avid student of Arizona history. He was a World War II veteran and earned his ASC degree in 1947, then spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and one-time sports editor of the Mesa Daily Tribune.

Peggy Bryant recalls Dean was editor of the ASC yearbook and later was faculty advisor to the yearbook. He was a board member of the ASU Retirees Association, and, with June Payne, did a video, "First Decade," on the history of the association in 2000. He wrote a booklet "A History of the First Methodist Church of Tempe, Arizona" in 1962 on the occasion of the church's 75th anniversary. He updated it in 1987 as "The First Hundred Years - A Centennial History of the First United Methodist Church, Tempe, Arizona."

Dean went on to be director of publications at Arizona State and earned a master's degree in business administration. He retired from ASU in 1984, then turned to independently writing and producing his long string of Arizona books. He also wrote a history column for years in the business magazine, Arizona Trend.

Dean also was active in the Arizona Historical Foundation; Scottsdale Westerners; and Tempe St. Luke's hospital work. He was an originator of the Don Carlos Humanitarian Award in 1984 with Tempe Community Council, where he was a member in the early 1980s. (Peggy Bryant notes that she suggested the award be named "Don Carlos" in honor of Tempe founder Charles Trumbull Hayden). Dean was nominated for the award itself in 2000.

Lawn Griffiths is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Tempe and former longtime religion writer for the East Valley Tribune.

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