Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Tuesday

October 9, 2012

Jan M. Smits IV

TRAVERSE CITY — Jan was born in Algonac, Mich., a small town on the St. Clair River, April 19, 1923. He grew up with the guidance and love of his mother, Cordelia Smits.

Jan was an accomplished athlete and played football, basketball and track. He earned five varsity letters in football alone as he played under an assumed name while he was an eighth grader so that there were enough members to make a full team. While growing up in Algonac he was actively involved in the construction of the Notre Dame Gold Cup race boats. His memories of race boats and their builders including Gar Wood have fascinated many.

The St. Clair River was his ongoing source of fun and interesting activities including his frozen dog he and a friend had one winter. They found the dog, already frozen, in the marsh and pulled it around in a wagon until it thawed out in the spring. Stories like this abound when describing Jan's life. After graduation from high school he attended Michigan State University but joined the Army Air Corps during World War II prior to graduation. He attended the Citadel, Alfred University and Clemson while in the Army Air Corps before being sent to China as a member of the Flying Tigers where he served as a weatherman. Over time, Jan taught his children and grandchildren some basic Chinese phrases that are said often, always bringing laughter.

After the war Jan attended and graduated from Central Michigan University. He married his wife, Elizabeth (Liz) and they had 46 years together before her death. They had two children, Jan (Lois) living in Traverse City and Elizabeth (Jack) Henning living in Dublin, Ohio.

Jan had a long career with General Motors and worked and lived in many parts of the country. He and Liz loved to travel and visited a large part of the world. His love of the St. Clair River continued throughout his life thru his ownership of a small cottage island in the St. Clair Flats (the family calls it labor camp). The Flats are an area like no other where a boat is the only mode of transportation. This love for the Flats is being passed on as his great grandchildren are becoming the next generation of "Flats Rats" as they carry on his love for this special place.

Upon retirement Jan and his wife, Liz moved to The Landings on Skidaway Island in Savannah, Ga. where he lived until shortly after the Liz's death. He moved back to Michigan to be near his family and lived in Ann Arbor and then at the Highlander, an assisted living facility on Boardman Lake in Traverse City until his move to the Grand Traverse Pavilions in 2012.

He was a loving son, husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather. He taught us all so much. He will be missed, but always loved and remembered as our memories and stories keep him close.

Jan is survived by his son, Jan (Lois) and daughter, Libby (Jack); grandchildren, Jan (Kate) and Casey (Jennifer) Smits and Kyle, Katie, and Kevin Henning; and great-grandchildren, Elizabeth, Andrew, and Adelyn Smits. Cremation has taken place and a service will be held at a later date in Savannah, Ga.

The family thanks all of those that made Jan's life in Traverse City rewarding and meaningful, especially his special friend, Meredith Bevier and the many friends from their favorite lunch spots; the discussion group at the Senior Center; and the Central United Methodist Church.

They would also like to thank the staff of the Highlander, the staff of the Grand Traverse Pavilions and the staff of Hospice of Michigan for their outstanding care and kindness.

Memorials in Jan's memory may be sent to the Algonac Clay Historical Society, 1240 St. Clair River Drive, Algonac, MI 48001.

Please share your thoughts and memories of Jan with his family by way of his online guest book at

The family is being served by Reynolds-Jonkhoff Funeral Home and Cremation Services.

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