LEWISTON, Idaho – As a way to honor their father and a third grade teacher in Twin Falls, Idaho, who changed his life, the family of Lonnie Smith has established the Bertha Bishop Maxwell Endowment at Lewis-Clark State College.
Smith is the chairman of the board of directors for Intuitive Surgical, Inc., which created the da Vinci robotic surgical line. He has been with the company since June 1997 when he was named the Chief Executive Officer. Intuitive had 12 employees at the time and today has more than 6,000 employees and a net worth of more than $62 billion.
As a surprise for his 75th birthday, the five siblings – Kristen Smith Dayley, Maryam Keyser, Rebecca Eggleston, Michael Smith, and Catherine Howell – donated $125,000 to start the endowment, which will fund a scholarship for a student in the Teacher Education Division at the college. The scholarship will start in the fall of 2022 and a student must have at least a 3.20 GPA to qualify. Preference will be given to first generation college students, defined as students whose parents did not complete a bachelor’s degree.
Smith often spoke about the impact his third grade teacher had on his life. Lonnie Smith was born and raised in Twin Falls. His father ran a construction company building roads and bridges, but only had an eighth grade education and was largely self-taught.
Smith said he didn’t attend kindergarten or any type of preschool and felt lost when he entered first grade. By the time he hit third grade, he still didn’t know how to read.
“I was really fortunate to have a teacher, Mrs. Maxwell, who took the time to teach about 4-5 of us every afternoon,” Smith said. “She had a special reading class during the lunch hour. So by the time I left third grade, I could read.
“I look back at that as a life-changing event. If that had not happened, I don’t know where I would be. I still remember there were some kids that still couldn’t read by sixth grade and they all dropped out of school. Because Mrs. Maxwell took the time with us, she is a very special woman to me. I have told that story to my kids many times. She changed my life. I would have never gone to college or gone to Harvard Business School.”
Earlier this year, the Smith siblings began to research Maxwell, hoping to identify her. Using resources online, they were ultimately able to gather key details about her life and even locate her grandchildren, but they could not determine where she went to school. The family contacted Lewis-Clark State College because the college is known for its long and successful history in producing teachers. The college was established in 1893 to address the need for quality teachers to work in the region’s many one-room rural schools.
Shortly after the family contacted LC State, the college’s institutional historian, Steve Branting, became involved. He verified much of the biographical information the Smith children had gathered and found that Bertha Bishop Maxwell had likely attended a local teaching school near her childhood home in Oklahoma that no longer exists, as well as the now defunct Southern Idaho College of Education in Albion.
It was important to the family that the scholarship established in Bertha Maxwell’s honor have a strong Idaho connection. Given LC State’s long history in training educators and the fact that more than 70 percent of LC State’s student body is made up of first generation college students, like Lonnie Smith once was, the family chose to establish the endowment at the college.
Smith said he feels honored by the generosity of his children and believes it sets a great example for his 23 grandchildren.
Smith also provides a great example for his grandchildren. After he graduated from Twin Falls High School in the 1960s, Smith went on to earn a degree in electrical engineering from Utah State (taking a little time off to handle some family affairs when his father passed away during his sophomore year), and began what would be a very successful business career with IBM in San Francisco. He was one of the youngest managers in the company until he was drafted into the Army, where he served two-and-a-half years. After his service, Smith returned to IBM, but soon enrolled at Harvard Business School
After graduating, Smith took a job with the Boston Consulting Group and then in 1978 joined Hillenbrand Industries, which was the largest manufacturer of electrical hospital beds and caskets, as a senior vice president. He was there for nearly 20 years before he joined Intuitive Surgical, Inc.
For more information on endowments at LC State, visit www.lcsc.edu/giving/endowments-scholarships or contact Erika Allen, the director of college advancement and LCSC Foundation director, at either [email protected] or 208-792-2458.