David Smith ’70 Receives Outstanding Alumni Award
By the 1990s, David Smith ’70, the recipient of this year’s Outstanding Alumni Award, had established himself as a loyal supporter of his alma mater.
He was making regular financial donations to Pfeiffer, hosting gatherings of Pfeiffer alumni at his home in Charlotte, N.C., and staying connected through campus service days. He often rooted for the Falcons at various athletic contests, including those involving the men’s tennis team, on which he played so well in the 1960s that he became a member of the Pfeiffer University Sports Hall of Fame, in 2019.
So in 1995, when the late Dr. Zane Eargle, Pfeiffer’s President (1988-1998), called Smith to invite him to lunch, the former tennis star wasn’t all that surprised. What did surprise Smith is that Eargle used their visit to offer him the position of Vice President of Marketing and Enrollment at Pfeiffer.
Smith, though flattered, was taken aback. If he accepted Eargle’s proposal, he would be taking his career in a radically different direction: For 25 years, he had worked his way up the corporate ladder at the Rexham Corporation, which did coating and laminating of film and foils in spaces such as electronics and aerospace. After working many years in chemical engineering at the firm, he eventually assumed a senior role in marketing and sales.
In time, Smith concluded that remaining at Rexham for another 15 years or so would not be for him. So, he accepted Eargle’s offer.
“I was ready for a change,” Smith said. “I felt I had done what I needed to do in business. I had loved Pfeiffer as a student and been involved as an alumnus. The VP role seemed like a great way to pay it forward even more than I had up to that point.”
At Pfeiffer’s campus in Misenheimer, N.C. Smith took on his new job with vigor and enthusiasm. He renewed his loyalty and affection for a place he had known since his pre-college days when he befriended and played tennis on Pfeiffer’s campus with Dr. J. Lem Stokes II, the late president of Pfeiffer (1953-1968). Stokes, a pilot, flew in and out of the Albemarle Airport, which Hazel “Chunk” Smith, David’s father, owned and operated.
David Smith would hold the VP position for 11 years. As he was walking out the door to a presumed retirement, an opening suddenly emerged for a coach of the men’s and women’s tennis teams at Pfeiffer. Smith was tapped to fill it, and he stayed on at Pfeiffer for another four years to coach.
Smith’s experiences with both of his jobs at Pfeiffer keeps him wondering why he didn’t abandon business for higher education sooner. Although he is retired from work, he is hardly retired from ways to advance his alma mater. The most promising of these emerged a few years ago when he and Rick Knapp ’69, a fellow Pfeiffer Hall of Famer who was Smith’s doubles partner at Pfeiffer, began conceiving of an endowment devoted solely to supporting athletics at Pfeiffer.
In time, a way of creating said endowment emerged when Smith and Knapp co-founded the Pfeiffer Athletic Advisory Council, which is now close to the hoped-for membership of 20 boosters, each of whom has either given $25k or pledged annual amounts of $5k over a five-year period.
Once the endowment reaches $500k, it will generate approximately $25k or more each year as its principal continues to grow. The goal of the council members is to enhance and support the experience of Pfeiffer’s student athletes. Smith said that endowment money would help underwrite such hard-to-project costs as new uniforms, repairs to facilities, and trips to the distant sites of championships.
Warren Knapp ’66, Rick’s brother, recommended Smith for the Outstanding Alumni Award. He is a Pfeiffer Hall of Famer who coached the men’s tennis team at Pfeiffer when Smith played on it. He isn’t surprised that Smith is spearheading endowment efforts for Pfeiffer athletics: “David has been a positive force at Pfeiffer since his days as a student.”
Smith, who majored in history and minored in English at Pfeiffer, stressed that while he has supported the University “across the board,” he’s now particularly bullish on advancing Pfeiffer athletics.
“Most of our athletes are good students,” he said. “So, when you’re promoting athletics at Pfeiffer, what you’re doing overall is promoting good scholarship through student athletes. As the recipient of the Outstanding Alumni Award, a great honor, I think Pfeiffer’s athletic programs are up and coming, and I’m glad to be a part of that.”