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Hank J. Smit

Published December 31,2020

Obituary's Biography:

Hank (Hendrik) J. Smit 73 was born on May 30, 1947, in Arnhem, Netherlands, the youngest son of Johannes and Maria Smit (nee Vonk). In the years following World War II, and a time in Uganda, Africa, the family moved to the United States. They arrived in New York on June 23, 1956, and eventually settled in Elkhart, Indiana. Hank attended Elkhart High School, graduating in 1965. 

Hank became a United States citizen on February 6, 1967. That year, he enlisted in the United States Navy. After an honorable discharge, he traveled throughout Europe and Africa, spending time in Spain, Holland, and Morocco. Once back in the U.S., Hank entered into an apprenticeship and became a journeyman carpenter.

Hank met the love of his life, Susan, in 1974. After dating for some time, the pair packed up a pickup truck that had been converted into a camper and headed west, planning to make their way to Guatemala. They got as far as Yellowstone National Park and eloped in Jackson Hole in 1977. They fell in love with Montana, made their home in Helena, and raised their two daughters in the capital city. Hank, always forward-thinking, used his carpentry expertise to start his own business, Smit Solar Construction, building energy-efficient solar homes.

Hank, Susan, and the girls eventually made their way back to the Midwest, settling in the Chicagoland suburbs. Hank was an active member of Carpenters Local 250, holding the title of president of the union for many years. Through the union, Hank regularly volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, Dollars Against Diabetes, and various other labor and community organizations.

An engaged citizen, Hank was passionate about politics especially around progressive issues of labor, organizing and the environment. He spent time getting to know his local lawmakers and dedicated his time to organizing and supporting candidates and registering voters. Hank voted in every election, understanding the importance of all levels of governance.

  Hank was a loving father and was so proud of his daughters. He never missed a chance to see them in school activities, sporting events, and musical concerts and recitals.  From loving father, Hank seamlessly transitioned to a doting Opa. His five grandchildren brought him nothing but joy. He loved watching them grow and learn, playing cards and chess with them, working on woodworking projects for them, and seeing them play sports and other activities. He enjoyed traveling to visit his daughter and her family in New York, spending time outdoors, and just being together. Hank kept himself busy working on projects around the house (there wasn’t anything he couldn’t fix!), and he never missed an episode of Sunday Morning or Jeopardy! Coffee and a treat was an important daily event.

  Hank passed away in the early hours of December 30, surrounded by his loving family after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Hank was preceded in death by his mother and father, Maria and Johannes (Riet and Jo). He is survived by his wife of forty-three years, Susan; their two daughters, Alie (Jon) Stansbury of Spring Grove and Amie (Todd) Green of Brooklyn; and five grandchildren, Sophie Stansbury, James Green, Benjamin Stansbury, Maisie Stansbury, and Theodora (Teddy) Green; as well as his two older brothers, John and Rein. 

In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to or volunteering time with charities that serve the community and the environment, such as Habitat for Humanity, PADS, Northern Illinois Food Bank, or the Sierra Club. Honor Hank’s memory by sharing a cold beer with a good friend (socially distanced, of course!), enjoying the beauty of nature and watching the birds, and using your voice to affect change by voting and staying informed.

A celebration of life event will be scheduled for sometime in 2021.  

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9 Comments

  1. I will always remember Hanks kindness, compassion, his talents and love of family and friends. My thoughts are with you, my friend, and also with your family. May your many memories of Hank help you through this difficult time. My heart aches for your loss!

  2. We’ve only known Hank and Susan since 2008 when we met them during President Obama’s first campaign. Since then we’ve become best of friends. Hank and I share the exact same birth date. We also shared our love of beer and pizza topped with black olives. It’s hard to lose a good friend, we’ll cherish our memories.

  3. I loved this man dearly. He was the perfect husband for my best friend of 52 years, Susan Smit. He believed in doing things right, and showed it by not only his excellent carpentry skills and community involvement, but also by the love he had for his wife, children, and grandchildren. I will never forget his smile, (especially the one he would get when he was about to challenge something I said), the twinkle in his eye, his laugh and knowing look. A wonderful man who left beautiful memories for his family. Rest In Peace our dear friend.
    From Greg and Carla Steinman

  4. Hank was my first friend in the United States in 1956. We attend the same elementary school “Middlebury elementary”. Our parents spent many a Saturday evenings together at the Smit’s house In Elkhart watching TV. Hank was a very kind and gentle person. Although we lost track of each other over the years it was nice to see him at our 50th class reunion. I will miss him!!
    Janet and I extend our sincere condolences to Susan and the family.
    ps I tried to call but was unable to get through.

  5. Susan, I was so sorry to hear of Hank’s passing. I hope all the good memories that you share with your daughters, sons in law & grandchildren at this difficult time bring a smile to all.
    Marianne Pittenger

  6. We are so saddened by the loss of our dear friend. We will miss your beautiful smile and cherish the the memories of all the fun times we had together. He so loved his beautiful family. We wish you strength and your memories to get through this difficult time.

  7. Hank, thanks for one of the greatest friendships in my life. You were always so comfortable to be with and so fun to talk to. The way you saw life and living always impressed me. The respect you displayed to others was another trait of yours that made being around you such a pleasure. It was times after canvassing that we would stop by the Vine, have a beer and talk about the various people we met, we would wonder why these people would think the way they did and how they came to their opinions but always with respect.
    Going to miss you and thanks for inviting me over to have your last beer with you! It was an honor.

  8. Dear Susan & Family,
    We are saddened to hear about Hank’s death.
    We have remembered Hank and all of you in our daily prayers and at Mass these past many months.
    We hope that your grief will be brief and soon replaced with memories that will make you smile.
    Lots of prayers and love,
    Bob and Joni Dworak

  9. It’s really hard to imagine Sue without Hank; or Alie and Amie not having both of their doting and adorable parents at the table. It feels wrong to accept Hank’s passing as a reality instead of a tragic or worrisome thought that snuck to the surface. Perhaps that’s how it should feel? It is a loss that is so great it’s hard to fathom.
    Hank was an exemplary man in many ways. The first time I heard the word “feminism” it was from Hank. It was incredibly uplifting for tweenaged me to witness a man preach about fair treatment for women as he drove his minivan packed full of soccer gear and girls all over Chicagoland. Hank wasn’t just a great husband and father he was a passionate ally to anyone who would let him be. He genuinely cared about people. He was so invested in doing the right thing, that he made efforts to inspire others to do the same. While those may all seem like fairly simple concepts; they are what separate the great people from the rest of humanity.
    I feel incredibly lucky that the Smits decided to befriend me and that I share memories with such lovely people. I trust that the spirit of Hank lives on in Susan, Alie, Amie, Sophie, James, Ben, Maisie, and Teddy, and that as a result, his wonderful attributes will continue to impact others. His life made the world a better place. Thanks, Hank.

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