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Monday, December 21, 2015

Fort Thomas Community Comes Together to Help Chad Smith's Family

Tanith and Chad Smith

The world suddenly seems so big when looking for someone you love.

Still, there was hope. And determination. And so much love.

Saturday morning 60 people arrived at Cincinnati Music Hall to join Texas Equusearch Ohio Chapter in a coordinated search for Fort Thomas resident Chad Smith. I was assigned to a team that was sent to an area close to where Chad had last been spotted Monday. I bummed a ride off someone who turned out to be a neighbor of the Smith family. Just last week Chad had spoken to him about a wheelbarrow he still needed to return, and asked for help with lifting something heavy. Their children played together often. Upon hearing the news that Chad was missing this particular neighbor took it upon himself to drive around Cincinnati the night prior to the search, looking, hoping.

Fort Thomas friends and neighbors met at Cincinnati Music Hall Saturday to help search for Chad Smith. photo by Tabitha Brennenstuhl

Many of the people on my team were associated with Chad via work—they were designers, animators, members of Cincinnati Motion Group. Chad was a partner and co-founder at Foster & Flux (check out their demo reel—he was so talented). Others knew him through his work as a Lumenocity animator. (Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra posted their condolences and a sample of his work on social media Sunday.)

Many of the people who gathered at Music Hall Saturday morning were from Fort Thomas. I spent a fair amount of time walking with a guy who met Chad at Fort Thomas Coffee. FTC had just opened and the guy offered to buy everyone in the shop a coffee—Chad was the only other person there. A friendship was formed.

So many of the Smith family's neighbors were present. It became obvious that the Smiths have an open-door policy. Like many streets in Fort Thomas, children simply run from house to house, playing together—as the children became friends, the parents became friends, as neighbors do.

I asked another man how he knew Chad. "I don't," he said. The man currently lives in Pierce Twp., but is from Fort Thomas. Much of his family still lives in Fort Thomas, as they have for five generations. The man simply read about Chad in the news and despite the proximity to Christmas, he had to help.

Chad's dentist, who grew up in Fort Thomas, was there. Friends were there, of course, but so were friends of friends—including a friend's real-estate agent. Fred Rogers once said, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world." 

Prior to the search FTC held a prayer service. "We had maybe a dozen people who gathered to pray before heading down to search, and several other neighborhood folks came in afterwards," says Lori Valentine, owner of Fort Thomas Coffee. Valentine says that the Smith family has had a huge impact on FTC and the city in terms of the artistic energy and creative spirit they've brought to our town.

"I first met Tanith when we were opening the shop," Valentine says. "They were both so supportive and we became friends quickly ... I often describe them as a couple that is literally 'dripping' with talent—their creativity is just incredible."

Mimi Rayner first met the Smith family when they moved to Fort Thomas in 2009. "The moment we met them we knew how lucky we were to have them as our new neighbors," Rayner says. "We have thought of them as family ever since." Rayner describes Chad as a wonderful friend and neighbor who was "quick with a laugh and always willing to have a great conversation." She says he also was an "amazing, dynamic and engaged husband, father and friend." 

Talk of Chad's deep commitment to his family has been common these last few days. "I have many memories of them bringing in their kids to play," Valentine says. "Chad was a noticeably awesome dad. You would often see him playing with his kids throughout the neighborhood." 

Rayner echoes these sentiments. "Chad was a deeply loving husband and father who worked hard for his family who, in turn, brought him so much joy," she says.

I can echo them as well. Every time I entered the Smith family home or his family entered ours, Chad had an exuberant handshake and pat on the back for my husband, a kiss on the cheek and a hug for me, and high-fives for our children. His laugh was big, loud and contagious. He was always smiling. When he talked, you couldn't help but listen. And when you talked, he made you feel as if you were the most important person in the room. I once worked on a small project for Foster & Flux, and his enthusiasm for his work and, in turn, my work, made it one of the easiest and most fun jobs I've ever done.

"Every person that has ever encountered Chad, I guarantee, said 'what a nice guy," says longtime family friend and Fort Thomas resident Tabitha Brennenstuhl, who also was instrumental in helping put together and implement Saturday's search. "You never left an encounter with him without a hug, and I thought that was such a special thing." She, too, saw Chad as nothing but a family man. "It was so obvious with the way he played with his kids, and the way he spoke about Tanith," Brennenstuhl says.

And yes, then there's Tanith.

"Tanith has touched so many people in this town with her artistic, entrepreneurial spirit—from teaching a group of women how to make tamales to teaching a group of kids how to make hand-painted nutcrackers, she has blessed our entire town with her many talents," Valentine says.

I met Tanith years ago at the Fort Thomas branch of the Campbell County Library. I believe our kids were collectively wreaking havoc in the children's section. We immediately bonded—Tanith has that way with people, even strangers. A friendship evolved, one that has included cookouts and roasting marshmallows with our families, wine nights, bunco nights and book clubs. I've attended several of her Artscapade classes, and while we painted and made jewelry she made learning something I was so unbelievably bad at fun. My daughter still talks about the art-themed birthday parties Tanith used to hold in her basement.

My stories are not alone. So many of us share them.

"They are a beautiful family who has enriched our family in uncountable ways," Rayner says.

We were there for the Smith family Saturday. And now they need their friends, neighbors and community even more.

There will be a prayer service 7 p.m. tonight at St. Thomas Catholic Church in Fort Thomas for the family. "We want to show them love and support during this difficult time," says Kristen Schnell, a first grade teacher at St. Thomas School. All are welcome to join.

A GoFundMe account has been set up to help support the Smiths financially and it is, perhaps, the easiest and most effective way you can help the family now. To donate, go here. And for updates on how to help support the Smith family, visit here.

"Many people want to know how they can help, what they can do," Brennenstuhl says. "The absolute best way to help Tanith and the boys is to donate through the GoFundMe page. That is going to make a big difference in their well being." 

Valentine agrees.

"I hope that we can somehow show her how much their family has meant to all of us by supporting their family in this time of need," Valentine says, adding that she and FTC plan to support them in every way they can, especially financially.

"It has been amazing to see the community support—of people who knew him well, people that knew of him and of total strangers," Brennenstuhl says. "Every time I look at the GoFundMe page, I can't help but cry. It's amazing." 

As Rogers' mother once said, "look for the helpers." 

Let us all be helpers.

"Please let everyone know how immensely grateful we all are," Tanith Smith says. "And to everyone, please remember the true meaning of Christmas and love for one another." 

Sunday Tanith reminded me to "hold my husband tight, love him immensely and don't ever let go." I did. And may all of us do the same, with our spouses, our partners, our children, our friends, our families, our neighbors. May we love immensely, always.

Tanith, we hold you and your sons tight, in person and from afar, as stranger, neighbor and friend. For we are and have long been a community of helpers. And now, in this season, we try to help you. And support you. With love.

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