When Henry Smith ‘75 was growing up in Maryland’s Prince George’s County, his life was accompanied by a constant soundtrack: going to summer band camp, music practice, playing rock n’ roll with his friends.
“That rattled the window glass in the house, but my mom never said a discouraging word!” he laughed. “In addition to the individual musical pursuits of my siblings and me, our family – my mom, my dad, the kids and various relatives – regularly had sing-a-longs around the piano with my mom, with everyone singing and playing something – even if it was the spoons!”
Smith’s mom, Margaret Ager Smith, was indeed at the heart of the family’s long-standing love for music. She began with the basics, making sure Smith and his two brothers and sister were all introduced early on with piano lessons and later encouraging them to play different instruments at their schools and taking them to lessons all over town. Smith played the trumpet and his siblings played the tuba, the baritone horn, the clarinet and the oboe. As they got older, they took their talents to new audiences.
“One of my bands, Crusader Rabbit, was a regular fixture at fraternity and sorority parties and other dances and mixers at Frostburg in 1972 and 1973. And two of my brother Bill’s bands, the legendary Butler’s Orchard and Spring Fever, traveled to Frostburg to headline large, sold-out dances – back then they were held in the Gunter Hall cafeteria!” Smith said.
After her kids left the nest, Smith’s mom, a resident of Silver Spring and retired government service employee, stayed busy with the Washington, D.C., Big Band Society and the Potomac River Jazz Club. She also traveled to music conferences and other gatherings all over the world – activities she still enjoys to this day.
When Smith and his wife, Donna Rae, read a story about Frostburg State University’s Charlie and Wanda Steiner Memorial Scholarship, they were “inspired to honor my mom – and to thank her for her lifelong musical inspiration – in a similar way,” he said.
So they established the Margaret Ager Smith Music Scholarship, which supports students interested in majoring or minoring in music, with preference for applicants from Prince George’s County.
“We presented the news about the scholarship to my mom as an 86th birthday present – telling her that we were looking for an appropriate gift for the woman who has everything but who really loves music,” Smith said. “She was truly speechless when she heard that we planned to honor her with a scholarship in her name, and she was absolutely delighted to learn that it was focused on music students, and kids from Prince George’s County.”
It’s a fitting tribute to his mom that also reflects Smith and his wife’s personal passion for music and their roots in Prince George’s County.
“My wife and I wanted to try to use my mom’s scholarship both to benefit students from the county where we all attended school, and also to try to encourage talented kids from Prince George’s County to consider Frostburg as a college option,” he said.
“Being the first in my family to attend college, my approach to college selection was rather limited, but I had the great good fortune to be introduced to Frostburg by R.C. Green, a Frostburg alumnus and my 12th grade homeroom teacher, who gave up one of his vacation days in the middle of January 1971 to take me and several other seniors from Surrattsville to visit then-FSC. Even though the snow was blowing sideways and we could hardly see the campus, I was immediately taken by the atmosphere and the people we met, and the college’s small-school/small-town feel, and abandoned my plans to attend either Georgetown or the University of Maryland in favor of FSC."
Perhaps with the Smiths’ new scholarship, even more aspiring musicians will find the right melody at Frostburg.
The FSU Foundation has embarked on a $15 million comprehensive campaign, Staking Our Claim: The Campaign for Frostburg, to raise badly needed funding for higher education in Western Maryland. Gifts support student enrichment, academic enrichment and regional and cultural enrichment. For more information about supporting FSU and the Margaret Ager Smith Music Scholarship, visit www.frostburg.edu/admin/foundation or call 301-687-4161.
Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 12 institutions and two regional higher education centers within the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland. For more information, visit www.frostburg.edu or facebook.com/frostburgstateuniversity.