Caryl Kelley Smith

19370709 –


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Caryl Kelley Smith (80) of Lubbock, Texas, died April 26, 2018.  She was born July 9, 1937, in Akron, Ohio, the daughter of two Kent State University biology professors, Kenneth and Ruth Kelley. She attended K-12 at the Kent State Laboratory School and was active in her family’s Disciples of Christ church. She was a swimmer and outdoors woman. With her parents and her brother, Richard, Caryl took several camping trips to western national parks, including her favorites, Zion and Bryce Canyon. In 1959 she graduated as a sociology major from West Virginia’s Bethany College where she performed in plays, was active in her Phi Mu sorority, and spent summers as water front director and camp counselor.

In 1961 Caryl earned her master’s in recreation at Indiana University – Bloomington where she served as a residence hall assistant which led to her lifetime service in university student personnel work. After two years on the Dean of Women’s staff at the University of Kansas, Caryl returned to IU to begin doctoral studies and work in residence halls activities where in 1964 she supervised a resident assistant, Walter Smith, who had also grown up in northeastern Ohio. Romance blossomed and they married on September 4, 1965.

She continued her residence hall work at Indiana State University and the University of Cincinnati; and their son Russell was born in 1968. Both Caryl (higher education) and her husband (science education) earned their Indiana University PhD in 1973. While completing their dissertations, Caryl and Walter were approached by Emily Taylor, the University of Kansas Dean of Women who invited them to Lawrence to work together in the Dean of Women’s office.

Walter soon became a KU professor of science education while Caryl rose through the university’s ranks to become Dean of Student Life and Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. Her bailiwick included student organizations and government, residence hall activities, Greek life and much more. She was a decisive problem solver and consummate planner and organizer of campus life from celebrating national basketball championships to addressing student concerns, and she was a supportive mentor to many student leaders.

Over her long career in student affairs, Caryl became well known on the national stage, including as a leader in the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. In 1991-1992, while on leave from KU, she served as interim vice president for student affairs at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau. In 1993, she returned to her birthplace to became Vice President for Student Affairs at the University of Akron. Always the visionary, she chaired the university’s future planning along with leading the university’s student services.

After Caryl’s 1999 retirement, Walter taught at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, until 2006 and then was recruited to become Helen DeVitt Jones Professor of Education at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. In both cities Caryl engaged in university development work and community activities, especially through Rotary International, for which she served as club president in Muncie.

When Caryl was a young adult, her parents bought a vacation cottage on Eels Lake in southern Ontario. She introduced Walter to the lake home on their 1965 honeymoon, and they vacationed there every summer until selling the cottage in 2006. At the lake Caryl enjoyed being in and on the water, watching raccoons, chipmunks, and loons, teaching their son to swim, water ski and play Bridge, visiting with neighbors, and hosting family and guests from back in the States.

Predeceased by her parents, Caryl is survived by Walter and their son, Russell, who lives in Connecticut with his wife, Nina, and their children, Julian and Maggie, and her brother, Richard, and his wife in Illinois.

The family will host a celebration of Caryl’s life at the Lake Ridge Chapel and Memorial Designers at 2 p.m., Sunday, July 15th, 2018 with reception to follow. 


In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the University of Kansas Endowment to support the Caryl K. Smith Student Leader Award (#37183) at or P.O. Box 928, Lawrence, KS 66044 or to the Rotary Foundation for a purpose of your choice (


6 thoughts on “Caryl Kelley Smith”

  1. Walter, I am so saddened to hear about your loss. Caryl was a beautiful person that will be missed dearly. My heart and prayers are with you and your family. God bless and comfort you. Kay

  2. Shari Hiltbrand

    Walter-My family is thinking of your family at this time. Caryl seems to have been a wonderful woman and I can tell that your story as a couple and team was a great one. God bless you, your son and his family at this time. Shari

  3. Phyllis Rutan Gatto

    So sorry to hear this news. I will pass on to other. kSUSchool classmates

  4. Marian Stutler Childs

    I just became aware of the loss of Caryl today. Goodbye to my old high school best buddy. The good memories will remain with me until I am gone.

  5. I am so sorry to hear of Caryl’s passing which I saw in today’s UA Email Digest… I have so many fond memories of her and of Walter during their time in Akron.

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