Newton born and raised, Joe Smiley has always felt a strong sense of community. As such, it doesn't take much to convince him to he help out a local cause — a habit he picked up early on in life.
While Smiley worked at Westar for many years, he also found time to answer the call to protect and serve his community, as former Sheriff Galen Morford approached him about a new opportunity back in 1971. Together, Morford and Smiley (with a couple of others) helped instigate the modern Harvey County Sheriff's Reserve program for which Smiley served as Captain for 34 years.
"I've always loved law enforcement," Smiley said. "In fact, if I hadn't have had the job that I had in real life, I'd have probably been a cop of some kind."
As it turns out, his position with Westar was well-suited to allow Smiley the opportunity to give his time to the sheriff's reserves. With stretches of days off at times, that allowed Smiley to take on various tasks to help out the sheriff''s department, whether transporting prisoners, doing road patrols or his most frequent role — maintenance.
"When they'd change vehicles, I would rewire them for the lights, radios and all that stuff," Smiley said. "It worked out really well for me. I kind of had the best of both worlds."
Upon retiring (both from the reserves and Westar), it didn't take long before Smiley was pulled into another cause near and dear to his heart — helping out the Harvey County Historical Society.
Back in 2006, Smiley was recruited to help out at the historical museum by former director Roger Wilson. In his time volunteering, Smiley regularly helped refurbish museum fixtures and exhibits (i.e. transforming the old chrome display cases into oak display cases) before transitioning to a role as a board member. Smiley is currently serving his second three-year term on the historical society's board of directors.
"I've always had an interest in history of special, local stuff because I know a lot of people; I know a lot of places," Smiley said. "It was just kind of a natural fit.
Smiley is quick to point out that he remembers visiting the museum as a child attending Cooper Elementary, and noted the basement features the same green and white tiles that he was accustomed to seeing on his trips as a student. Preserving that history is important to Smiley, as is sharing it with the next generation of students. He noted he has taken a handful of groups to tour the old 1880 steam engine downtown and said the reactions from the students are always pleasing to see.
Enthusiasm comes pretty easily to Smiley who, on top of serving as a board member, also chairs the Taste of Newton committee for the historical society. It is a simple satisfaction from those efforts, too, that Smiley admitted are a big part of why he continues to volunteer.
"I like helping people, I guess, is what you'd say," Smiley said, "and at the museum we certainly do. You'd be surprised how many people we have come in, especially who go to our archivist."
Volunteer work in any way, shape or form benefits the community, which has also spurred Smiley on in his work over the years. Donating his time has brought Smiley a lot of enjoyment and, if he had his way, he noted he'd give even more if he could.
"I've had a lot of fun being with the museum," Smiley said. "I just wish I had a million dollars to give them so they could revamp everything."