In his lifetime, Gary Smith has accomplished a lot. He helped launch rockets in the Apollo program, assisted in the Johns Hopkins Physics Laboratory, developed in-flight entertainment systems for airplanes and, since retirement, devoted seven years and more than 2,700 hours to the students of the Tiger Woods Learning Center (TWLC).
Smith, 72, one of the first volunteers at the TWLC, came on board in 2006 just months after the 35,000-square-foot education center opened its doors.
"As a volunteer, you develop friendships with the kids. They look at you as someone who is helping them, and that always makes you feel good," said Smith. "Every city should have one, two or three Learning Centers."
Prior to retirement, Smith worked in the aerospace defense industry. He was born in a farmhouse outside of Windsor, Mo., and grew up in Kansas City. He graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in electrical engineering.
He moved to California in the 1960s to work for North American Aviation, today known as Boeing. Throughout his career, he helped develop a beam former at Johns Hopkins in the Applied Physics Laboratory that determines low frequency sound in water; he worked in Alabama on the Apollo program where he created backup launch control equipment, and got the chance to work alongside famous German-American rocket scientist Wernher von Braun. His work even brought him to Ireland where he developed in-flight entertainment systems in airplanes.
Now at the Learning Center, he shares his experience and knowledge with the teachers and students, helping them build weather vanes, repair circuit boards and even carve wood race cars.
"Being here is rewarding and I feel lucky that I'm volunteering in a unique place," said Smith. "I just have fun helping the kids."
While thousands of students have come through the Learning Center, there is one that stands out to Smith -- a young boy named David, who would attend classes, spend time talking with Smith and essentially follow him at the facility. The two really bonded.
"Six months later, he came back and he found me. It made me feel really good that I connected with a student and made an impact on his life," said Smith.
Smith's goal is to reach the 10-year volunteer mark at the TWLC.
"Gary has been a great mentor and resource for the Learning Center throughout the years," vice president of programs Kathy Bihr said. "His experience and knowledge in the field of engineering have helped us to continue to develop many of our engineering classes. We want to recognize and celebrate Gary for all the years of service he has given us."
Volunteers are always needed at the TWLC. If interested in becoming a volunteer, click here.