David F. Smith was born June 15, 1930 in Heppner, Oregon. Dave’s family moved to Corvallis in 1934, and Dave graduated from Corvallis High School in 1948. He earned a degree in business administration and industrial engineering from Oregon State University in 1952. After graduation, he worked for Alcoa Aluminum in Medford and Oakland before returning to Corvallis. In 1965, Dave founded the David F. Smith Insurance Agency which he built into one of the largest State Farm insurance agencies in Oregon before retiring in 1990.
Nita Lee Fitzsimmons was born Dec. 24, 1932, to Edward Lee and Eleanor J. McCulloch Fitzsimmons in Des Moines, Iowa. She later moved to Chicago with her family and graduated from Calumet High School in 1950. Nita attended Iowa State University where she studied home economics. When her family moved to Portland, Nita transferred to Oregon State University, where she met Dave. Nita and Dave were married Oct. 12, 1952, in Portland’s Mallory Avenue Christian Church. After stints in Medford and Oakland, they settled in Corvallis in 1954, where Nita worked for Chapman Manufacturing and later was a homemaker. She and Dave had a daughter, Vicky, in 1955 and son, Mark, in 1957. Over the years, Nita worked part time in Dave’s State Farm Insurance agency.
Dave served as Chair of the Board for Benton Community Foundation from 1980 – 1981. In 2007, Dave & Nita established the Dave & Nita Smith Endowment Fund to benefit the Benton County Historical Society because of their passion for the Horner Collection.
The Horner Collection was established by Oregon Agricultural College and Professor John Horner in 1925. It was renamed the John B. Horner Museum of the Oregon Country in 1936, three years after he died, and became commonly known as the Horner Museum. The museum housed an eclectic mix of artifacts, photographs, and archival materials; supported an active oral history program from the mid-1970s through the early 1990s; and was the repository for the oral history projects conducted by Oregon State University faculty, students, and departments during that time. Jennifer A. Lee was the Horner Museum staff member that worked most closely with the oral history program, sometimes in collaboration with her husband, Forestry Professor Royal G. Jackson. The museum was located in various buildings on the Oregon State University campus, until it moved to its final campus location in Gill Coliseum in 1951. In 1995 the 60,000-artifact museum officially closed to the public due to statewide budget cutbacks resulting from the passage of Oregon Ballot Measure 5 (1990).
Not long after, certain of the museum’s records, including its vast oral history collection, were transferred to the Oregon State University Archives. Ten years later, in 2005, a final agreement for transfer of physical custody of the remainder of the museum’s collections was signed between Oregon State University and the Benton County Historical Society. The society subsequently transferred the Horner Collection materials to their facility in Philomath, Oregon. The Historical Society has embarked on an $8.5 million capital campaign to build a museum in downtown Corvallis to provide access to the collection.
Dave and Nita are happy to make a difference to the Benton County Historical Society. “We’ve been really grateful for living in Corvallis and for all the facilities that were offered to our family,” said Nita. “This may be a little payback.”
Dave and Nita have many fond memories of visiting the Horner Collection, which includes nearly 60,000 historical objects. “I really missed it,” said Nita. “We have friends who have wonderful family [heirlooms] they’ve given to the museum, and I think they’re disappointed they’re were not being shown.” So, although Dave and Nita had included a gift to BCF in their wills, after learning about the historical society’s efforts to provide viewing space for the Horner Collection in downtown Corvallis, they decided to create an endowment to support the cause.” We decided rather than wait until we died, we’d stimulate this program now,” said Dave. Sadly, Nita died July, 2008 at the age of 75 after a 13-year battle with breast cancer.