Warren Smith Collection

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by Kacy Hayworth

Forest Park Museum has been privileged to receive a donation of artifacts and memorabilia from former Minburn resident, Warren Allen Smith. Warren was born in 1921 and is currently living in New York. The donation of his personal collection of various documents and artifacts chronicles his life and key events that have taken place in the past century. The collection is a useful tool for academic researchers and an intriguing exhibit for Forest Park Museum.

The Collection

SoapThis vast and diverse collection is full of personal correspondence and decades of memorabilia. Many items came to us with no background or little information attached. The lack of information has made our jobs difficult but very interesting. It becomes our responsibility to research and identify various items and rate their importance to the museum.

For example, a small light weight round object was found in Warren’s items that had no information besides what was engraved upon the object. After research the small object was identified as a 63- year-old bar of soap from France bought during World War II. Warren had bought the lavender soap for his mother and his previous landlady, Mrs. Emily Davenport, of Fort Knox, Kentucky, while he was stationed in Reims, France. His mother had never used the soap. She had instead used it as a decoration. The soap is still intact, but discolored.

Warren A. Smith Biography

Warren SmithWarren Allen Smith was born on October twenty-seventh, 1921, the son of Harry Clark Smith (1887-1975) and Ruth Marion Miles Smith (1891-1975) of Minburn, Iowa. Harry played baseball for the Portland, Oregon, farm team of the Chicago Cubs in the 1910’s, and he had a .400 batting average. During World War I, Harry received two Purple Hearts plus other accommodations. His wife, Ruth, was an equestrienne from South Dakota. Her marriage to Harry January 12, 1921, was her second. Ruth was one of the first divorcées in South Dakota, a state that had only entered the union in 1889.

At an early age Warren showed an aptitude, not for athletics like his father, but for music. He expanded his talent with piano and music lessons. His talent was noticed by his community. At the local Methodist Church he was the pianist as a teenager, a role yield usually by an adult member of the church. After graduating from Minburn High School in 1939, Warren went to the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), formally known as Iowa Teachers College, where he majored in piano.

While attending college, Warren was active on campus. He played both the trombone and the piano and was a common face in the music department. Besides music, Warren also showed an aptitude for English and writing. In his later years of college he wrote for the school paper, The College Eye. He had his own column “Smitty on the Keys” and “Campus Opinion.”

In 1942 before graduation,Warren was drafted into the Army. His military career started out at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, then to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic and special skills training. Warren was trained to be a clerk for the Army. After spending time in the clerk’s office at Fort Knox he was shipped abroad. In 1944, as an acting first Sergeant, he traveled on a victory ship to United Kingdom’s Southampton, than overnight by railroad during a blackout to Liverpool. From Liverpool he was sent to France. He was on the HMS Rangitata and landed on Omaha Beach.

Upon his arrival in Europe he was chosen by an Adjutant General to work for him. The General chose Warren based on his Army General Classification Test (AGCT) score, which was 144/177, twenty points higher than the general’s, and his being able to type 113 wpm. Warren was the Chief Clerk of the Adjutant General’s Office, Oise, Little Red School House, Reims, France, for the remainder of his time in the service.

After his discharge from the Army, Warren attended the University of Chicago for a semester, majoring in Philosophy. It was at this time that he learned he should switch his major away from Philosophy or Piano to Literature/English. After his semester at U of Chicago, Warren went back to University of Northern Iowa and continued his major in literature and English.

While at UNI Warren was the founder of the first Humanist Club, the first club of its kind on any college campus in America. It was at UNI that he started his writing career. He worked for the College Eye, the college newspaper. He wrote a weekly column about music, “Smitty On The Keys.” “Smitty” was a nickname he earned during his time in the Army. He graduated mid-year 1948 and began his teacher career at West Chester, Iowa, as a second term substitute English and Drama instructor.

In August 1948 he left Iowa and headed to New York City, hitchhiking his way across to the East Coast. In his first week in New York City Warren met Fernando Rodolfo de Jésus Vargas Zamora, a native Costa Rican, on a park bench in Riverside Drive. Fernando would be his close companion for the next forty years until his death in 1989.

In New York City Warren attended Columbia University’s masters program in American Literature. His Masters of Arts (M.A.) thesis was on “The Seven Humanisms.” Upon graduating Warren secured a job from 1949-1954 as an English teacher-librarian at the Bentley School, 48 West 86th Street, a progressive school. Then in 1954 Warren doubled his salary from $2,500 to $5,000/year by taking a teaching position at New Canaan High School in Connecticut, hired as the department chairman to overhaul the English Department. Warren would continue to work at Canaan High School until his retirement from teaching in 1986.

During his years at New Canaan Warren split his time between two states: Connecticut and New York. He returned on all weekends and school holidays to New York, spending 180 school days in Connecticut and spending 185 days in Times Square. In New York, Fernando and Warren founded and ran their own corporation: Variety Sound Corporation in Times Square. They operated Variety Recording Studio and Afro-Carib Records.

Warren is listed in Who’s Who in the World (Marquis), Who’s Who in America (Marquis), and Contemporary Authors (Gale).