KENTWOOD — Mayor Harold Smith followed in the footsteps of his parents before becoming mayor in 2003.
Smith, the son of two educators, was born and raised in Kentwood and taught there for more than 33 years.
After graduating from O.W. Dillon High School in 1962, Smith went on to Southern University, where he graduated in 1971, after serving in the U.S. Army in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969.
“Naturally, I came back home,” Smith said. “I’m a country boy.”
He landed his first job out of college at Woodland High School, where he taught for seven years, Smith said.
He married Ann Alexander, whom he met in high school and whom he would later rival on the basketball court.
She coached the girls basketball team at Kentwood High School, while Smith coached the girls basketball team at Woodland High School.
“She used to beat up on us all of the time,” Smith said smiling.
“She won state.”
Smith would coach at Kentwood later, but this time, he coached the junior high school boys.
He became the assistant principal at Kentwood High School and then the principal at Chesbrough Elementary School.
After 33-and-a-half years as an educator in Kentwood, Smith retired. It was then that he decided to run for mayor.
“I wanted to get involved in the community and speak to some of the concerns of the minorities,” Smith said.
“I’ve been engaged in community activity ever since I came back from Vietnam,” Smith said, adding that he had served on the library board, the boards of numerous social clubs, and the Rosenblum Mental Health Center advisory board.
He is a member of the Kentwood Rotary Club, a member of the Kentwood American Legion Post and a trustee and board member for Oak Grove AME Church.
Bruce Harrell, of Bruce Harrell and Company CPAs, who has done work for the town for more than 30 years, said the mayor and his wife are both well known and well respected in the Kentwood community.
“They are one of the dynamos over here,” Harrell said. “They are good, hard working people.”
Smith served on the town council for 12 years, beginning in 1978, but, he said that when he became a school principal, he opted to devote more time to his students.
Now, in his third term as mayor, Smith said he believes he is accomplishing what he set out to do — improve the community for everybody.
“What the town is doing will make the quality of life better for everyone,” Smith said.
While he doesn’t recall dealing with any “major issues” during his term as mayor, Smith does remember having a “laundry list” of “to do” items to accomplish.
Smith said that during his first year as mayor, he and his staff held meetings and set goals.
The top goals were to provide recreation for the people who lived in Kentwood, improve the quality of life and promote jobs and attract new businesses to the area, he said.
“We have accomplished some, and we’re working on some,” he said of those goals.
Since he took office, Smith has worked to bring a recreation center to town, and said he is now in the final stages of closing a deal that will bring the center, which will be located between Tangipahoa and Kentwood, to fruition.
“Individuals in the community felt we needed a recreation department, and we have been working on it,” he said.
While in office, Smith has also renovated the town hall building, including the council room and the parking lot; brought garbage cans to corners in the town; completed sidewalks in the town; and provided a place for food for the needy to be distributed in town, he said.
The town sponsors football and baseball for children, and has brought back the town Christmas parade with the help of both the Lions and Rotary clubs, he said.
Smith said he has been able to help new businesses establish roots in the community. He has worked with two developers to bring two subdivisions to the town and with a developer and a resident to open a home for individuals with special needs.
The new home added new jobs to the area, he said.
Under his leadership, the town has bought additional equipment to maintain the streets, cut the grass and mow the ditches, he said.
Smith and his team have secured money to provide a summer work program that will support recreation and host a youth football camp.
While Smith has watched many of the projects he created come to fruition, he still has work to do, he said.
Some of the ongoing projects he hopes to complete are the recreation center and rehabilitating the town’s water facilities, Smith said.
By working with grant writer Larry Kinlaw, Smith said the town has been able to secure grant money for many projects without having to dip in to the general fund.
“We manage our money wisely,” Smith said.
“As far as financials, we are as good or better off ever since he’s been mayor,” Harrell said.
“He demands and gets a lot of respect from a lot of people,” Harrell said.
“He seems to have kept things progressing and moving on,” he said.
“He’s a solid individual in his church, in his community and obviously, he has been reelected more than once, so that speaks for itself. He’s a quiet, confident leader.”