THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF NEAL SMITH, JR.
Neal H. Smith, Jr., was born Easter Sunday, April 21, 1935. Neal Sr. and Leona Molson Smith welcomed there only son. The family lived at 125 Albany Street SW, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Siblings were Delores (Deceased), Sylvia, Arlene, Joyce (Deceased) and Geri. They attended Apostolic Faith Church, where Neal Sr. and Leona were active in leadership. Many hours were spent, throughout the week, sitting in church for the six siblings. These hours prepared them for life and instilling a love for GOD and people which brought peace to their lives, amid trials and triumph. The family moved to Potter Ave in a house built by Neal Sr., who owned a construction company. The Smith children were the first African American family to graduate all siblings from Kelloggsville High School. Early in life, Neal was very adventurous taking interest in hunting, music, sports, building, animals and mischievous activities with his best friend, from church, Roger Julien. One of his favorite times of the week was when he and his father would go out hunting Pheasants in the nearby wooded areas. Pastor Horace Young donated his saxophone and Neal began his lifelong love of music. Taking the bus from 48th street to downtown Grand Rapids, at the age of 12, for lessons. During his teenage years, the family had their own cow that Neal would regularly milk. Without permission, he frequently took more than his portion. Athletics played a big role during his Jr. and Sr. High career. He excelled in football, basketball, baseball, and track. Competing in baseball and track on the same day in different locations. His talents yielded the Best Athlete Award two consecutive years. He was also elected president of the Kelloggsville High School Band where he played the saxophone for four years!
After graduation Neal met Valerie Faythe Smith (Deceased) who became his wife of 55years. Together they had three children: Brian (Deceased), Derek and Cory. Neal also had another son, Mark Benton. Neal and Valerie were immensely supportive of their family, it was their shared priority. At 19 years of age, Neal began directing the choir at Bethel Pentecostal Church. Neal Sr. was the founder and Pastor Horace Young was the first pastor holding services in the house built by Neal Sr. Both families LOVE GOD and each other. The choir traveled throughout the mid-west for several years. Neal was highly regarded and sought after for his sax skills and ability to bring a group of talented voices together in unison with instruments. Neal Sr.’s passing caused Jr. to assume leadership of the construction company which had partnered and built several homes in Greater Grand Rapids. After a few years, Neal went to work at Meijer Super Market, for 14 years, becoming a salaried employee in their Distribution department. He was a foreman over Grocery and General Merchandise. Few know of his scholarship offer to The University of Michigan, for football, that was held for two years after an unsuccessful plea to play to Neal Sr. In response to this disappointment, he petitioned Fred Meijer for capital investment to establish a Semi-Professional football team. Providing him an outlet for his passion to compete and provide opportunity for others. Kraft Foods (1971) was the next stop as a salesman who serviced Michigan and surrounding states. He won the Five State Regional Sales award and was regularly acknowledged for: work ethic, creativity and sales, nationwide. During his time at Meijer and Kraft he continued his athletic career playing fast-pitch softball and football, on a semi-pro level.
Neal’s next adventure was as an entrepreneur, purchasing a grocery store in Holland Michigan. After a few years he chose to be closer to home and opened three Party Stores in Grand Rapids called Son’s Party Stores. He enjoyed being part of the community and sponsored many athletes as well as students who were looking for opportunities. Some won World Boxing Championships, others won Gus Mackers, others learned the value of sacrifice and ethic through work. These businesses were a family affair with many nieces and nephews pitching in and earning some money as they were treated to ice cream, candy and flexible hours through high school.
In the early 80’s, Neal began to experience health challenges and switched his attention from business to his personal health. He was diagnosed and BEAT prostate cancer! He and the family were grateful to GOD for this reprieve. He and Valerie maintained their support of sons in all endeavors as they sought the next direction. After a brief stint at Jacobson’s Clothing Store, he decided to start a Charter bus business, C & N Charters, with his cousin, Carl Carew Sr. This was a significant business in the community providing transportation to; Schools, athletic teams, Senior citizens, private groups across the country. Their fleet grew to more than 33 vehicles that included school buses, 25-passengers’, limousines and deluxe coaches. C & N Charters employed up to 50 employees which also included Mark, Derek, Cory, Carl Jr., D’Wayne, Daryl and others. They held contracts with GRATA, GVSU, Aquinas College, Ferris State, GRCC, City of Chicago and many others. Carl and Neal also sponsored a baseball team comprised of players hoping to play professionally, C & N Travelers. They competed throughout the Midwest and placed 7th in the National Tournament one year. Neal experienced more health challenges that derailed the transportation business. Upon his healing, he and Valerie began Smith Snack Shack that had mobile concessions with locations in Centerpoint and Plainfield Malls. In the summer, they had a contract with the City of Grand Rapids at their parks. They also operated in South Haven at Pallisades, and Lansing at Michigan State University in the football stadium and The Jack Breslin Arena. Neal and Valerie participated in several business ventures. All of which paled in comparison to the legacies they left their family. Honoring GOD and providing enduring support through all adversity.
On Saturday, October 16, 2021, our beloved Neal H. Smith Jr., transitioned from Time to Eternity. Neal was preceded in death by parents: Neal Sr. and Leona Smith; wife: Valerie F. A. Ray Smith; oldest son: Brian Smith; oldest and his youngest sisters: Delores Haggard, Joyce Clemmons; grandson: Jason Stewart (Mary/Angelo), granddaughter: Sophia Chavez-Perkins, daughter in love: Becky Ysasi-Manning and dear friend Nellie Blue. Neal leaves to remember his legacy: his three sons: Mark(Cathy), Derek and Cory(Annie); his 10 grandchildren; Dominique’, Lindsay, Mark II, Brandon (Andrea), Jessica, Serena, Isabel, Job, Joshua and Aaliyah. 13 great-grandchildren; Seviano, Syaria, Kennith, Ayva, Brenden, Londyn, Joseph, Elle, Jaylen, Enzo, Ysa, Leo and Eli. his three sisters: Arlene Young (Bishop Richard Young); Sylvia Duke(Dr. Albert Duke-d) and Geraldine Cobbin (Cliff); a host of cousins, nieces, nephews, friends, and the Grand Rapids Community. If you knew Neal, you were family!
Final Arrangements are entrusted to: Toombs by Crystal Funeral Services, Memorial Celebration: Friday, October 29, 2021 Visitation 11am-12pm Service 12pm