Frank Smith helped Wichita's natural beauty bloom

02/20/2011 12:00 AM

02/20/2011 1:30 AM

As the retiring director of the Wichita Parks and Recreation Department, Frank Smith was asked in 1994 to speculate about its future.

"Kansas is a place of subtle beauty; it does not shout for attention," he wrote in a memo to then-City Manager Chris Cherches.

"This condition is reflective also in the attitude of the people. They are conservative both in their expectations and demands."

Mr. Smith, who is credited by wildlife enthusiasts with striving to bring out the natural beauty in Wichita, died Thursday at age 82.

They said he was instrumental in developing such assets as Botanica and the Kansas Wildlife Center in Riverside Park.

Tim Martz, a retired superintendent of parks and recreation for the city, said Mr. Smith pulled together the necessary local, state and federal resources to make the Great Plains Nature Center possible.

"If it wasn't for Frank, that place wouldn't be going," he said.

Other than the Sedgwick County Zoo, Martz said, the nature center at 29th and Woodlawn is visited by more people than any other public facility in the county.

Mr. Smith was a native of Winfield who studied landscape design at Kansas State University before settling in Wichita. He and his wife, Betty, lived in the same house in Riverside for half a century, raising three daughters.

Betty Smith, who met her husband in high school, said he was always interested in nature.

"He was a very quiet, very laid-back, compassionate person," she said. "When he had a cause, he saw it through. I'm sure he ruffled a few feathers."

Martz said Mr. Smith's feathers were ruffled from time to time. He cited the time that someone from the East Coast was brought in to landscape the back entrance to the Wichita Art Museum.

The landscaping included a steep slope that was held together by some junipers that didn't thrive in the Kansas climate, Martz said. Despite an expensive irrigation system, Martz said, the plants eventually died.

"It looked like the dickens," Martz said. "And that was the entry to our art museum."

Martz said it was Mr. Smith's preference to use plants that were native to Kansas in all landscaping projects.

In that memo he wrote to the city manager in 1994, Mr. Smith said: "We must be honest about the conditions we live in — an environment that can be difficult for both people and plants. If we desire exotic landscapes, we will not find them here."

A memorial service for Mr. Smith is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at Botanica.

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