Students continue to benefit from Dede Smith’s passion for immersive education. Since 1992, the Mercedes Freeman Smith Education Fund has provided more than $140,000 in scholarships for students to attend Drury Leadership Academy and Summerscape, two gifted-education summer camps provided by Drury University. (Photo courtesy Drury University)

A Gift for the Gifted

Dede Smith’s belief in immersive education supports summer art and leadership programs.

Mercedes “Dede” Smith was a Springfield native, attending Greenwood Laboratory School and then the University of Missouri. After working briefly as a teacher in Fort Campbell, Ky., where her husband Ted was stationed, the two returned to Springfield in 1967 to raise their family. Even though she never taught in Springfield, Dede wound up leaving a legacy for gifted education that continues to this day thanks to the power of endowment.

Mercedes “Dede” Smith served as the CFO’s seventh board chair.

By the mid-1980s, the Smiths’ oldest son wasn’t feeling challenged enough academically at Springfield Public Schools. Dede decided to do something about it. With a charge from the school board, Smith and Dr. Wanda Gray worked with local and Jefferson City leaders to improve access to gifted public education. The fruits of their labors include SPS’ WINGS program for gifted students. Statewide, Dede’s advocacy led to the creation of the Drury Leadership Academy and Summerscape programs at Drury University, along with the Missouri Scholars Academy at Mizzou, all residential summer programs for high schoolers that are ready to gear up again with the approach of summer break.

“When Dede dug in, she could be very determined,” Ted says with a laugh.

It was the residential aspect of the summer programs that opened their eyes to the benefits of immersive gifted education for students of all backgrounds. After Dede died unexpectedly while traveling abroad with a student group in 1991, Ted opened the Mercedes Freeman Smith Education Fund to honor her. Opening in 1992 with about $58,000 in donations from friends and family, the fund has granted $140,000 and holds a balance of nearly that much today. It awards three scholarships each year to DLA and Summerscape, totaling about $6,500.

Ted credits the CFO’s management — even through the stock market’s down years — with growing the fund to this point. Best of all, he says, are the letters from scholarship recipients whose lives have been changed by their experiences who want to thank the woman who started it all.

“It’s not a feeling, it’s a sense of continuing her mission,” Ted says. “It was a true passion, and even that doesn’t describe the work it took to get it all done. It was more than a passion.”

This story was originally published in the CFO’s Annual Report FY2018. You can read the full publication here.