Highlands Ranch historian dies at 80

Caroline Smith was active throughout community

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Longtime president of the Highlands Ranch Historical Society, founder of the garden club, pilot, writer, HRCA delegate for 14 years and proud Daughter of the American Revolution, Caroline Smith, died just before dawn May 9 after a six-month battle with cancer.

Smith, well-loved throughout the community and famous for driving her Cadillac painted up in flowers, had a well-traveled past, and according to her son Wallace, never truly put her roots down until she moved to Highlands Ranch in 1997. She had turned 80 on Sept. 11, 2012, one month before her diagnosis.

Described by her son as “a 5-foot-2 ball of thunder who was still climbing around in apple trees a year ago,” Smith was born in New York City and raised in Lexington, Ky.

She met her husband, George, who survives, as a young lady while he was stationed by the Army outside Lexington in 1952. The couple lived in Chicago, where Smith wrote for the Naperville Sun, and then New Jersey before settling in Highlands Ranch, where under her guidance the historical society became what it is today.

Smith’s love for history included a stint on the Douglas County Preservation Board, and she also played a role in growing the Highlands Ranch Genealogical Society. She had been writing her own take on Southern history at the time of her death and told the Herald in a 2012 interview that she saw history as a daily happening and something for all generations to be engaged with.

“History is not just a big book with a lot of little words and boring dates you have to remember,” she said. “What we really need for the younger generation to understand is that history is fun. They are making history. Everything is history, and they need to learn to be excited about it.”

Jamie Noebel, spokeswoman for the Highlands Ranch Community Association, recalled Smith as someone who loved to dress in “old hoop skirts” and had been giving and organizing docent tours at the Highlands Ranch Mansion for years — long before it was renovated. She would dress up in period clothes for all the big occasions.

“She was so incredibly active in Highlands Ranch,” Noebel said. “She knew everybody, everything historical. Every blade of grass that had a historical significance she knew about it. She loved bringing history to our modern world.

“It will be a big loss for our little community. She made such a difference in so many ways. She really built up the historical society and had such a passion for our community and loved connecting people with one another.”

That passion for connecting people led her to lead the community’s newcomers club for a while, something her son attributes to her having bounced around foster homes as a child and not finding that true “home” until arriving in Highlands Ranch.

“I can’t tell you how much she loved Highlands Ranch,” he said, while also recalling another side of his mother — one that was wild and free.

She had flown an airplane in the annual transcontinental Powder Puff Derby and was president of the Chicago chapter of the women’s pilot organization, the Ninety-nines, of which Amelia Earhart had been a charter member.

“There wasn’t anything she wouldn’t try of the healthy variety,” he said. “She was famous for saying she wasn’t a feminist. She thought feminism was stupid. She would always say, ‘why would women want to come down to the level of men?’”

Smith, remembered for her infectious smile and laughter, spent the past few months of her life under the care of Denver Hospice, and Wallace said he couldn’t say enough fantastic things about the care they gave.

“They made the last couple weeks really comforting for her and our family,” he said.

A community service for Smith is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. May 20 at the Chapel at Cherry Hills Community Church, 3900 Grace Blvd. in Highlands Ranch. It will be preceded by a viewing at 9:30 a.m., and the service will be followed by a reception on site. Burial services, scheduled for later that afternoon at Fort Logan National Cemetery, will be private. 

In addition to her son and husband, and some grandchildren, Smith is also survived by a daughter, Marguerite.