For about 10 years, the kids at Northminster Presbyterian Church’s child development center received daily greetings and encouragement from their adopted Grandpa, church building manager Forrest Smith.

As “Mr. Fixit” for the church, Smith frequently was solving one crisis or another for the school and still found time to answer the kids’ questions, take an interest in their activities or tell them a story.

“I have a rapport with children…I think I’d call it mutual admiration,” says Smith, who has three grandchildren of his own.

It wasn’t long before the children started calling Smith “Grandpa,” and soon after that, he volunteered to play Santa Claus each year during a school party.

The kids see their special Grandpa less since he retired earlier this year, but they recently helped give him a grand send-off that included a retirement party and planting a Bradford pear tree in his honor on the church grounds.

A member of the church since about 1955, Smith has been teaching Sunday school there for more than 40 years as a volunteer. His current class is an adult group that includes many old friends.

Church elder Doug Creer remembers being in Smith’s class back in the 1970s.

“It was excellent,” Creer says. “It’s a very popular class because of Forrest and the way he teaches.”

Smith and his wife of 51 years, Rosemary, also have volunteered to teach children’s nature classes at the Dallas Arboretum. And through his membership in Dallas Elks Lodge No. 71 Smith has worked with many children’s programs, such as the Hoop Shoot basketball tournaments. He received the Elks Distinguished Citizenship Award in 1991, a national honor.

“I volunteer for pleasure, joy and self-satisfaction,” Smith says. “I also make a practice of asking myself: How have I made a difference?”

That philosophy goes back many years for Smith – to the day he was seriously injured during World War II when his jeep ran over a land mine in France. He received the Distinguished Service Cross and spent a year in recovery, but many of his friends died.

“I must have been spared for a reason,” Smith says.