Sept. 11, 1921 - Oct. 31, 2006
Professor Betty Murnan-Smith, 85, died Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2006, of injuries suffered Oct. 21 when struck by a car in a pedestrian crosswalk. Born Sept. 11, 1921, in Indianapolis, to Carl J. and Helene (nee Stephens) Murnan, Betty’s father died when she was 12.
An only child of a suddenly single mother and in the desperation of the Great Depression, her mother defended Betty’s right to go to college. Due to the efforts of her high school English teacher, Louise Dauner, a scholarship enabled Betty to attend Butler University in Indianapolis where, with the mentoring of Dauner and Allegra Stewart, she graduated, cum laude, with a bachelor of arts in English in 1944. Betty went on to receive her master of arts in English from the University of Iowa in 1950, and while teaching in Ely, Minn., she met and married forester Richard N. Smith on Oct. 21, 1951. The couple spent the next decade transferring to various forest service posts in the upper Midwest, often living in pioneer conditions.
In a career spanning more than 40 years, Betty taught at Kingsford High School (Kingsford, Mich.); Bosse High School (Evansville, Ind.); Ely Junior College (Ely, Minn.); as an acting instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with the family’s move to Waukesha in 1961; and as part of the original 1966 and continuing faculty for the next 26-plus years at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha. She served as an assistant professor from 1970 to 1981 when she was named an associate professor teaching Freshman Composition, Introduction to Literature, American Literature, the campus’ first courses in Creative Writing and Images of Women in Literature, and was the only faculty member ever to teach the Old Testament as Literature.
In gratitude to her mother, Dauner and Stewart, Betty believed the value of education was second only to that of relationships and she inspired those values in her family, friends, colleagues and students. A colorful, innovative and original teacher, she was a tireless advocate for gender equality: She fought to expose racism, championed freedom of speech and was a humanitarian throughout her life. In 1979, she was awarded the Community Services Award at UW-Waukesha. She was named to Who’s Who of American Women and Who’s Who in the Midwest. She was featured as a poet on Wisconsin Public Radio and as a humanist on Wisconsin Public Television in 1981. Other memberships include: program chair for the Randall School PTA, 1962 to 1964; Waukesha County Human Relations Council, 1960s; Board of Directors of the Waukesha Symphony Orchestra, 1969 to 1972; secretary of the Waukesha Equal Opportunities Commission, 1970 to 1973; Board of Directors for Waukesha Civic Theatre, 1973 to 1974; Waukesha Choral Union; Theodora Youmans League charter member; Waukesha YWCA; elder at First Presbyterian Church, Waukesha, where she was a member of the choir from 1973 to 1989; and one of many volunteer sponsors of 27 Vietnamese refugees from 1975 to 1977, enthusiastically welcoming Qui Van Vo into her family. She was most proud to be the donor of two scholarships that she established for single parents - one awarded at UW-Waukesha and the other at Butler University in Indianapolis. And she loved most any chance her family could gather together to sing.
Betty will be sadly missed by her loving husband of 55 years, Richard N. Smith of Waukesha, and their children, Allegra Louise Smith Jrolf of Kansas City, Mo.; twin sons, Timothy Dwight Smith of Los Angeles and Michael (Cecil Lozano) Murnan-Smith of Tempe, Ariz.; and Qui Van (Hong Rose) Vo of San Jose, Calif. She was the proud grandmother of Paula (Matthew) Jrolf Infranca of Blue Springs, Mo., Alissa Jrolf of Kansas City; Pfc. Joseph J. R. Jrolf, USMC of Camp Pendleton, Calif., Pfc. Tyler Dwight Smith, USMC of Los Angeles; Richard Tuan Vo and Christine Hanh Vo, both of San Jose; and great-grandmother of Michael Joseph Infranca and Sophia Rose Infranca, both of Blue Springs.
Visitation with Betty’s family begins at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 17, in the student commons on the campus of UW-Waukesha at 1500 N. University Drive, Waukesha. A celebration of life service will commence at 12:30 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, please forward memorials in Betty’s name to:
Murnan-Smith Scholarship for Single Parents awarded by UW-Waukesha. For more information, call 521-5481 or visit www.waukesha.uwc.edu/student/scholarship.
Betty Murnan-Smith Scholarship awarded by Butler University. For more information, call (317) 940-9569 or visit www.butler.edu/gifts.
For more information or directions, please call Randle-Dable Funeral Home, 547-4035, or visit online at www.randledable.com to leave an online tribute.