Donna M. Smith, 39: Village of Lowville & BOCES

 

Donna M. Smith learned about hard work and community service at a very young age.

Mrs. Smith, 39, literally grew up in her family’s funeral home, helping to pay bills, set up for viewings and services and perform other needed tasks. As such, she quickly learned how to properly treat people and help them during a difficult and trying time.

It should be no surprise that Mrs. Smith, now a physical therapist with the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services and Lowville’s village mayor, has firmly established herself as a leader and true community servant in her adopted hometown.

“Knowing I’m making a difference keeps me involved and engaged,” she said.

Mrs. Smith said she learned about community service from her mother, Ruth Morse, a former teacher who has long organized jacket and food drives to help those less fortunate.

“She’s always doing things like that,” Mrs. Smith said.

While both she and her husband, Kory, grew up in
small towns outside the north country, Mrs. Smith said they both took physical therapy jobs here, then stayed to raise a family because they enjoyed Lowville’s mix of “a little bit of city life and a whole lot of country life.”

Mr. Smith’s father, Robert L. Smith, also has ties to the area, having served as a past principal at Lowville Elementary School.

Before being elected mayor, Mrs. Smith served on numerous committees, including the planning committee of the Lowville Cream Cheese Festival from its inception. For several years, she also owned a book store in downtown Lowville and
was heavily involved in revitalizing the Lowville Business Association.

Mrs. Smith said that experience helped her realize “how difficult it is to own a business in a small town” and has made her more cognizant of the needs of local businesses.

Since becoming mayor, she started an annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony and has undertaken extensive beautification efforts. The latter initiative led to some businesses planting additional flowers outside their respective shops, she said.

“I think what I enjoy seeing the most is the trickle-down effects,” Mrs. Smith said.

The fifth-year mayor said she also enjoys having the opportunity to help lead and shape her village.

“I really do not enjoy politics,” she said. “I enjoy my community.”

And knowing she can make a difference, whether with the village or in the lives of her physical therapy students, is what keeps Mrs. Smith going.

“I want to make sure this is the best place in the world for my kids to grow up,” she said.

Also, during times when progress seems to be at a standstill, hearing words of encouragement from people makes a huge difference, Mrs. Smith said.

“It’s almost like God sends these little angels on earth,” she said.

During her time at the village helm, Mrs. Smith said she has made a concerted effort to keep residents informed on current projects. “Just keeping people in the loop is important in any public role,” she said.

One of the main drawbacks to being so involved in the village and community is not always being available for family time, Mrs. Smith said.

However, she said, her husband and children are incredibly supportive, and other village officials have made her job much easier.

“You’re only as successful as the people you surround yourself with,” the Lowville mayor said.

To retain young people, north country leaders “need to show progress” by encouraging development and job creation but should still strive to maintain the country lifestyle that residents enjoy, Mrs. Smith said.

“You just need to be open and research ideas,” she said. “You can’t just shoot them down because they came from someone young.”

Mrs. Smith said she has long been inspired by a quote posted at the Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester stating, “Nothing is impossible.”

That motto has served her well, whether she is leading the village, organizing a new event or planning and saving up for a month-long family trip to Alaska this past summer.

“If you just keep dreaming it and working on it, you can make it happen,” Mrs. Smith said.

— Steve Virkler

STEPHEN SWOFFORD n WATERTOWN DAILY TIMES

The Donna M. Smith File

Hometown: Canton, Pa.

Professional position: Lowville village mayor, physical therapist for the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services

Family: Husband, Kory; children, Tess, 14, Tate, 12, Taci, 9, and Trey, 8

Education: Bachelor’s in physical therapy, Northeastern University, Boston

Community involvement: Committee member, Lowville Cream Cheese Festival, Lowville United Methodist Church

Last book read: “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank