A random encounter with a notorious gangster of the 1930s may have been one of Zane Smith's claims to fame but it certainly wasn't his only one.
When the 93-year-old Brainerd native died last week, news accounts included the obligatory reference to his brush with Baby Face Nelson during the 1933 bank robbery at Brainerd's First National Bank. A clerk and messenger boy at the bank, Smith was struck in the jaw by the infamous bank robber in a heist that featured plenty of machine gun fire but fortunately, no fatalities.
When asked, Smith patiently retold the story of his historical encounter to more than one generation of Brainerd Dispatch reporters. He never sought publicity for his tale but always cooperated with his hometown paper.
The true measure of the man was not his chance encounter with Baby Face Nelson but his long record of service to the community as a banker and civic volunteer. The list of his activities showed his wide range of interests. Smith was treasurer of First Congregational United Church of Christ, the Elks, Build Brainerd, Gull Lake Chain and the Salvation Army. He was president of the senior citizens center, the Exchange Club, the Brainerd Library Board, the Kitchigami Regional Library Board, the Round Lake Improvement Association, the Whittier PTA and the Brainerd Jaycees. He also was active with the United Way and a mental health advisory committee.
That litany of activities is a remarkable legacy. His volunteer efforts demonstrate his concern for the community and his willingness to pitch in and help when work needed to be done. Smith may never have achieved the nation-wide fame of the thug who belted him more than half a century ago but he certainly set a standard for community involvement.
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