2-year SCHF director leaving post for Ole Miss

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 13, 2001

[06/13/01] Ted Smith, executive director of the Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation since 1999, has decided to leave the Vicksburg organization for a fund-raising position at the University of Mississippi.

Smith, 30, announced the decision to the SCHF board Monday, he said. His last day at the foundation will be July 13.

“This was a very hard decision for me to make,” Smith said. “My wife and I have decided that the nicest people we’ve ever met live in Vicksburg.”

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Smith accepted the SCHF job in April 1999, shelving the doctoral dissertation he had been trying to complete at Ole Miss since 1995. At the time, he became the fledgling organization’s third director.

It was a transitional time for the group since city funds were being weaned from the humanities center, located in the city-owned former St. Francis convent and school complex. To sustain the organization, Smith beefed up a membership program, intensified programming to include monthly lectures and created a Southern book club, focusing on subjects that he said have intrigued him since he was growing up as the son of a Methodist preacher in Arkansas. SCHF members now number 400 and pay dues annually ranging from $25 to $1,000.

Before being bought by the city in 1994, the city block of buildings at Cherry, Clay, Crawford and Adams streets belonged to the Sisters of Mercy, a Catholic religious order, for 124 years. St. Francis Xavier Academy held classes there until 1991.

Initially, taxpayers funded the $1 million purchase price for the complex, and the city provided money for salaries, utilities and some programming. During the past four years however, the Mayor and Aldermen eliminated all funding except payments on the purchase price. The non-profit foundation has a management agreement for the facilities.

Smith’s tenure has featured an array of activities that highlight the diversity of the South, Vicksburg and the lower Mississippi Delta. Recent programs have included a blues concert, a lecture on Mardi Gras in rural Louisiana and a book club discussion of “Black Boy,” one of Roxie native Richard Wright’s most famous works.

“They have something for just about everyone in Vicksburg and Warren County,” said Gordon Cotton, curator of the Old Court House Museum and Smith’s morning walking partner. “I can’t say enough good things about what Ted has done.”

Crediting SCHF programs director Stacie Botsay for coordinating the public events, Smith said they have helped establish the foundation as a vital part of Vicksburg’s cultural life.

“We have shown an identity in the community,” he said.

Smith said his experience in administering fund-raising drives for the SCHF helped convince him to take his new Ole Miss job. Starting in July, he will be an advancement associate at the University of Mississippi Foundation, raising money for the school’s scholarship endowment. Also, he plans to finish work on his dissertation, a social and cultural study of the antebellum Arkansas Ozarks. Smith said he also considered his wife, M.K., in deciding to move back to Oxford she’s an independent video producer, he said, and Ole Miss is her main client.

Bettye Sue Kline, a member of the SCHF board, said Smith’s decision to resign takes away one of the foundation’s biggest assets.

“He’s been a real pillar of strength,” Kline said. “He’s very gentlemanly and good with the public.”

Carol Eaton, another board member, said the foundation will be advertising for a new executive director in the coming weeks. But Eaton said Smith has qualities that cannot be replaced.

“He’s brought in all the exciting new programs,” Eaton said. “Ted always has had such great enthusiasm.”