Elvin Smith Jr.: Leaving his own mark by recording local history

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By Robert Villanueva

An unplanned teachng assignment may have temporarily detoured him from the path of history and photography, but Elvin Smith Jr. found his way back soon enough.


A 1960 graduate of Rineyville High School, Smith attended Western Kentucky University where he majored in elementary education with a minor in physical education. He graduated in 1965 and earned a master’s degree in 1967.

Smith began his 30-year career as a teacher at Maceo Elementary School in Daviess County.

“I was supposed to teach science and history,” Smith said.

Because the school had an unexpected need for a P.E. teacher, Smith ended up in the role.

“I had every kid, every day, in that school for P.E.,” he said.

After teaching in Daviess County for three years, Smith began a 27-year teaching stint with Hardin County Schools. He taught at G.C. Burkhead Elementary School for two years and Lincoln Trail Elementary School for 25 years.

It was at G.C. Burkhead where he began teaching Kentucky history, igniting an interest that burns within him today.

“I really enjoyed it,” he said.

In 1974, during his time at Lincoln Trail Elementary, Smith began coordinating annual week-long trips for students to tour the historical and natural regions of Eastern Kentucky. He initially got the idea from friend and teacher Embry Lay, who wanted to take students from the elementary school in Sonora on such trips, so trips initially were arranged including both schools.

Smith has made 40 such trips, averaging more than 100 students each year. The 2013-14 school year was the first year he didn’t make the trip with students.

Lincoln Trail Elementary also was equipped with photography darkrooms and Smith made use of them. He became a photographer for area basketball, football and baseball teams. Among his photographic efforts was creating programs for sports teams, he said.

Throughout the years, he has coached baseball, softball and basketball, and he has served as a Cub master and Scoutmaster.

Smith also combined his photographic interest with his interest in history. He began copying historical photos for books such as ”Elizabethtown and Hardin County, Kentucky, A Pictorial History,” “The Civil War in Hardin County” and “The Civil War Battles of the Western Theatre.”

Additionally, he contributes photos to pages on Facebook, including “News and Photos from the Past in Hardin County Kentucky” and “Lincoln Trail Elementary School Alumni.”

“A lot of those are from the trips,” he said of the latter page.

The significance of such pages, Smith said, is “just bringing back memories” to older people such as himself.

In 1981, Smith won first place in a newspaper photo contest. The photo of his bedridden grandmother being visited by his young daughter who placed a cat in bed with the woman is his favorite photo he’s taken.

When he’s not taking photos or researching history — of which he finds the Civil War in Kentucky most interesting — Smith spends time metal detecting. He has been enjoying the hobby for years and has even traveled out of state to do so.

The most interesting thing he’s found while metal detecting is a Virginia state seal button believed to be from a soldier who rode with Gen. John Hunt Morgan.

Although officially retired from teaching, Smith still is involved in education, primarily through preserving and promoting local history for the public.

To that end, Smith was a charter member of the Hardin County History Museum in Elizabethtown, which opened in 2003. He is the museum board’s vice chairman.

“I just love working with junior at the museum,” friend and fellow volunteer John Lay said.

John is the brother of Smith’s friend, Embry Lay. He desribed Smith as a person who cares about people and loves the museum.

“He loves history and is a wonderful person,” Lay said.

Smith still enjoys taking photos, including his grandchildren’s sports activities, but thse days he uses a digital camera. Despite changing needs over the years, photography, whether of a historical nature or a personal one, remains a favored hobby.

“So I never gave up on it, to tell you the truth,” he said.


Place of birth: Liberty

Family: Wife, Kathryn, three children and three grandchildren

Favorite music: ‘50s and ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll

Favorite TV shows: “The Big Bang Theory” and History Channel programming

Favorite movie: “Saving Private Ryan,” because his father was at Normandy. “I took him to see that before he died.”

Favorite book: History-related

Hobbies: In addition to metal detecting, Elvin collects Civil War diaries, record albums and books

Interesting trivia: Elvin has put his love of metal detecting to use working crime scenes for Kentucky State Police and took scuba diving classes in order to do underwater metal detecting

Robert Villanueva can be reached at 270-505-1743 or rvillanueva@thenewsenterprise.com.