LU News Archive

LU establishes James G. Smith Memorial Scholarship

A new scholarship has been established in memory of James Smith, a longtime Beaumont educator and leader. Smith’s family, former students and friends established the James G. Smith Memorial Scholarship through their gifts to the Lamar University Foundation. The endowment will provide funds for science majors seeking teacher certification.

“My dad was a lifelong learner, taking at one time virtually every course of study Lamar offered,” said Glenn Smith of The Woodlands, James Smith’s son. “He loved Lamar, the professors and the students. He loved listening to the students and their ideas, who he always said were our future. It was our family's intent to honor his beliefs and provide a scholarship to assist science teachers becoming trained in both science and education.”

As one of Smith’s former students at Beaumont High School, Lamar University President Jimmy Simmons has “very fond memories” of not only his time in class with Smith, but also years of contact with him.

“He was an outstanding physics teacher who had a tremendous impact on literally generations of students who went through Beaumont High School,” Simmons said. “The scholarship gives us the opportunity to memorialize Mr. Smith’s legacy in perpetuity.”

Born in Sour Lake, James Glenn Smith moved to Beaumont with his family in 1921. His father opened a jewelry store on Orleans Street, where James spent a lot of his time, and he later owned and operated several shops along with his father and brothers. He graduated from Beaumont High in 1935 at the age of 15, as a result of skipping fourth grade.

Smith attended Lamar Junior College in 1937 and played football for Coach John Gray before transferring to the University of Texas for pre-medical studies. Smith enlisted in the Army Air Force and became a navigation instructor after Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor. After the war, he worked in research at Humble Oil in Baytown.

Smith married Zulma Gay Knowles in 1941. He went back to school, attending night classes and earned a degree in business administration from Lamar University in 1955. He completed a master of education at the University of Houston in 1970, pursued additional graduate studies in a variety of fields and has received certification in science and education from institutions in the U.S. and abroad.

He worked for 27 years as an educator, teaching physics and chemistry at Beaumont High School (later Beaumont-Charlton-Pollard) and mentored legions of physicists, engineers, chemists and biologists, many of whom went on to doctorates and positions in industry and academia. In 1981, he was the only Texas teacher to have two students selected for the National Science Teachers Association/NASA Space Shuttle Student Involvement Project. Smith was recognized for his teaching skills when he was honored as Beaumont’s Teacher of the Year and as finalist for state Teacher of the Year in 1976.

Zulma retired in 1982, and Smith followed shortly after, allowing the couple to spend more time traveling. In the mid-1980s, the Texas Legislature passed a law enabling senior citizens to audit college courses without paying tuition or fees. Smith pursued his passion to learn after retirement, enrolling at Lamar where he studied a variety of subjects for almost two decades and helped organize the Lamar Chess Club.

Smith served on many boards and agencies throughout his professional and personal life. He served as docent at the John J. French Museum, McFaddin-Ward House, Texas Energy Museum and Art Museum of Southeast Texas. He was instrumental in establishing the Sabine Area Science Teachers Association, which he served as president for several terms. He was active in Boy Scouts, Big Thicket Association, Southeast Texas Camellia Society, National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors and a host of teachers organizations. Some of his other memberships include Trinity Methodist Church in Beaumont, Christ Church United Methodist in The Woodlands, South Park Lodge No. 1320, the Optimist Club and Woodsmen of the World. Smith died in December 2010.

Through the years, Smith established five academic scholarships at Lamar as his way of giving back to university.

For information about establishing an endowed scholarship, contact the Lamar University Foundation at (409) 880-2117.