Clarence Smith Remembered for His Business, Community Leadership

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio –- Rick Fryda, CEO of Compco Industries, got the call early Tuesday and knew what he had to do: “I went to every plant and broke the news to everyone. Then I did a video for those who still work from home.”

Clarence R. Smith Jr., Fryda announced, had died peacefully at age 92, his family at his side.
“Mr. Smith was a leader, a teacher, a kind, generous, unselfish and patient man who gave and supported those around him and the community without any expectations,” he said. “We will all miss him.”

Smith was the retired chairman of Compco, the former chairman of Diamond Steel Construction Co. and owner of the former Adamas Gems & Jewelry in Boardman. He was a philanthropist, a dedicated benefactor for Republican Party candidates on all levels of government, and a civic leader, serving on the boards of directors of nonprofits, economic development agencies, the former Home Savings & Loan Co. and his church.

As word spread of Smith’s death, and calls poured into Compco and to members of his family, tributes were shared as generously as the spirit of the man who gave his all to everything he did.

“He was amazing — the impact he made on so many people. He was always there for everybody,” said Jim Tressel, president of Youngstown State University.

“Whenever I would see him, he would say, ‘Young man, you’re doing a good job. Keep up the good work.’ He was always encouraging.”

In the 1990s, when Tressel was YSU’s head football coach, Smith approached him with “one of the coolest ideas I’d ever heard of,” he remembered.

Smith wanted to do some advertising for Adamas, the store he opened in the house where he grew up at Market Street and McClurg Road in Boardman. “He wanted to do something positive,” Tressel said.

The result was the “YS and U Can” series of TV spots in which the coach would share an uplifting thought before a tag line that noted the message was sponsored by Adamas, “We travel the world for you.”

Smith gave his whole-hearted support to YSU, believing that the university must have a leadership role in returning economic vitality and stability to the Mahoning Valley.

In 1999, he was inducted into the YSU Athletics Hall of Fame.

“[He] is a big reason why we have a beautiful 20,000-seat stadium, 26 scholarship loges and DeBartolo Stadium Club. Mr. Smith served as the co-chair of the Stambaugh Stadium project and was instrumental in the brick campaign,” YSU stated in announcing his induction.

“He was the kind of person who not only cared about the community but encouraged you to do the same, to give back,” said John Moliterno, CEO of the Western Reserve Port Authority.

Smith served on the WRPA board from 1994 to 1998 and was “a stabilizing influence” during the economic development agency’s formulative years, Moliterno noted.

So, too, was he instrumental in the merger, in 1993, of the Youngstown and Warren chambers of commerce. “He was very supportive of regionalization,” remembered Tom Humphries, the retired CEO of what became the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.

“He helped me immensely with federal and state legislators, introducing me to them and helping me get our priorities done in the region, especially in Mahoning County,” Humphries said.

Smith served 12 years as chairman of the Mahoning County Republican Party, from 1998 to 2010, and 14 years as a member of the Mahoning County Board of Elections. The businessman was elected to the Boardman Local Schools board and ran for the Ohio House of Representatives in 1982.

“His love for country and community sparked his involvement in politics,” said Mark Munroe, who succeeded him as Republican Party chairman.

“While he loved our country, he hated the corruption that sometimes came from greed and selfishness. He wanted to encourage good candidates who might make a difference in a Valley that had been dominated for so long by the Democrats,” he said.

But he was also fair-minded, and respectful of everyone who honestly tried to make a difference.

“When I joined the [Mahoning County] Board of Elections, Clarence became a friend, colleague and mentor,” said Michael Morley, chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party in the 1990s. “I admired his philanthropic spirit, business acumen and bipartisanship in elections oversight. I will miss him and all that he meant to our community.”

Smith was “unpretentious. He lived modestly. His favorite luxury car was a modest pickup truck,” Munroe said. “His generosity was well-known. But he always did his work quietly, never seeking the spotlight for the many persons or causes he helped along the way.

“He was fiercely loyal to his employees. And in return, they helped him build a number of successful ventures. He would sometimes say, ‘The most important thing in business is finding good people. If you can do that, the rest is easy.’ ”

In 2005, Smith sold Diamond Steel to the Collins family. Diamond Steel was founded in 1928 by Clarence R. Smith Sr. and became an affiliate of Compco.

“He gave me the biggest opportunity in the world and I’m just so thankful that I had the chance to work a number of years with him and have his influence on me,” said David Collins, the son of the late Arnold Collins, Smith’s longtime right-hand man.

“I’m going to miss him. His death is a big loss to the companies he supported, to his family and to the community. Nobody will really ever know how big that loss really is,” said Collins.

A public memorial service will be held April 24 at Greenford Christian Church in Green Township. The Smith family will hold private calling hours and a funeral service Thursday at Davis-Becker funeral home in Boardman.

Smith is survived by his wife, Rose Marie, his son Greg and twin daughters Gwen Smith-Darnell, Gail Smith and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. A son, Clarence R. Smith III, preceded him in death.

“I think he will be most remembered for always seeing the best in others – no matter what, no matter who they were,” says Greg Smith, chairman of Compco.

“And he will be remembered for always giving his best, always.”

This picture was printed in the April edition of The Business Journal as part of our coverage of family businesses. Clarence R. Smith Jr. and Rose Marie Smith, center, were the second generation to operate Compco. Standing behind them are third and fourth generation family members who work at Compco Industries. From left are Greg Smith, Rick and Christy Kamperman, Gwen Smith-Darnell, Gail Smith, Brad Smith, Kim and Tom Varley.

Political Editor George Nelson contributed to this story.

WATCH: Compco CEO Rick Fryda Tells Employees ‘Patriarch’ Has Died
April 13, 2021: Clarence Smith, Business and Philanthropic Leader, Dead at 92
March 29, 2021: At Compco, Employees Are Family

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.