CARTERVILLE — Each year, the American Legion Department of Illinois asks local organizations to nominate members for Legionnaire of the Year.

In addition to being a member, nominees should have made significant public service contributions at the local, state or national level, as well as significant contributions in support of veterans and the military.

When the the organization announced its winner for 2018, it was a familiar name: Ed Smith, of Carterville, is the American Legion Department of Illinois Legionnaire of the Year.

“I am shocked,” Smith said. “As far as we know, no one in Southern Illinois has ever been awarded Legionnaire of the Year.”

When the time to submit nominations rolled around this year, Anthony Zaccagnini, commander of American Legion Post 346 in Carterville, suggested they nominate Smith because he has been involved in so many things.

Smith served in the Navy from 1969 to 1972 during the Vietnam War as an aviation anti-submarine warfare operator on P-3 Orian Aircraft. He received the National Defense Service Medal, commendation from COMFAIRAZORES, Alpha Crew P-3 Aircraft and honor man of Company 101 Great Lakes Naval Station.

Like many others, Smith came to Southern Illinois to attend SIUC and stayed. He received an associate's degree in architecture in 1975 and a bachelor’s degree in construction management in 1977.

He worked as an assistant architectural division coordinator at Smith & Hill in Jacksonville, Florida; as a project manager at R&H Construction and Morgan Construction, and as senior project manager and estimator for EMC Construction Group. He retired in 2015.

“I’m busier now than when I worked," Smith said, "but I’m doing what I want to do."

Smith has done many things in the 52 years he has lived in Carterville. He was a founding member of Carterville Jaycees, volunteered with Carterville Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, Tri-C Youth Athletics, Carterville Boys Baseball, IHSA baseball umpire, and is a former announcer for Carterville Junior High School boys basketball.

Smith is a member of Carterville Lions Club, serving as vice president and president; Carterville Schools Foundation, serving as president; and American Legion Post 347. He is the “in-gym” announcer for Carterville High School boys and girls basketball and John A. Logan men’s and women’s basketball.

Smith was inducted into Illinois Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame as an announcer and received the 2018 Community Service Award by Rotary Club of the Carterville Area.

Smith also serves as a volunteer with Veterans Honor Flight of Southern Illinois. He signed up to be a veteran on the group’s inaugural flight.

There, he saw they had some needs, and stepped in to fill those roles. Since that first flight in 2017, Smith has been involved with all four flights, even filling the role of bus captain after another volunteer became ill. In February, he was named volunteer committee chairman.

“It’s so neat to meet all these veterans, to talk to them and share their experiences,” Smith said.

He says he is lucky because he and his wife, Cynthia (Hansford) Smith, live close to their children. Christopher Smith and his wife, Melissa, and Catherine Blythe and her husband, Gabe, also live in Carterville. Smith and his wife are watching their four grandchildren grow up.

Smith received his award during the American Legion Department of Illinois convention in July in Springfield. He said it was a solemn ceremony. Two sergeants at arms walked him to the stage, stopping to salute the American Flag. The award was presented by Illinois State Commander Robert Henderson.

“I do things, but I am sure there are people all over the state of Illinois who do a lot for their communities. I was really surprised,” Smith said.

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Marilyn Halstead is a reporter covering Williamson County.

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