Robert Smith watched with a smile on his face as friends, family, and former students waved and cheered Wednesday as they passed by his Hartshorne residence.

Due to COVID-19 concerns, a parade was held to thank Smith and celebrate his retirement after 57 years working at Jones Academy, where he helped shape the lives of thousands of Native American students.

“Every day was a good memory,” Smith said when asked if he had any favorite from his 57 years. “There’s a lot of good ones. Every day, every year, every month, all the way through,”

Smith said he was proud to have known that every child that attended Jones Academy graduated.

“We’ve graduated every kid that went though there,” Smith said.

Jones Academy is a Native American boarding school located near Hartshorne operated by the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma which children from Oklahoma and across the nation attend. Jones Academy offers on-site instruction for students in first through sixth grades, while students attend Hartshorne Public Schools for seventh through twelfth.

Smith attended Jones Academy from the seventh through twelfth grades and began his career at the school Oct. 14, 1963 in the maintenance department a few months after graduating from Hartshorne High School.

He then became a part of the dormitory staff before becoming the dormitory manager.

Smith is married to Linda and the couple has three children, Teresa Jackson, Sheryl Baker, and Mike Smith; five grandchildren, Blake Jackson, Emily Dubler, Candice O’Daniel, Rachel Baker and Wyatt Baker; and two great-grandchildren, Ty O’Daniel and Tatum O’Daniel.

When asked what he was going to do after retiring, he said he was just going to enjoy life and being a father and grandparent.

“Just enjoying life,” Smith said. “Being here, going there; visiting the kids and grandkids and helping them when I can. All the good papa stuff.”

Smith said he was proud of all the good kids that have attended the school throughout his tenure.

“I just enjoyed my 57 years out there. There’s been a lot of good kids that came through there.”

Smith thanked the Choctaw Nation and Jones Academy for being good employers.

“The Choctaw Nation has been good to me. Jones Academy has been good to me. It’s like a second home out there. I’m sure going to miss it.”

Contact Derrick James at djames@mcalesternews.com

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