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Wounded Warrior Project
PO Box 758517
Topeka, KS 66675-8517
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Life Story / Obituary
With a life that spanned times of war and times of peace, times of plenty and times of want, Zena Smith was a lover of life in every way. She was warm and outgoing with the ability to make friends wherever she was. Blessed to share the majority of her life with her true love, Zena was thrilled to witness her family tree blossom to include numerous branches of loved ones who made her so very proud. Although life wasn’t always easy for her, she faced whatever came her way with both grace and courage that were such an inspiration. Life will never be the same without Zena here, but she leaves behind a timeless legacy that her loved ones will proudly carry on in her footsteps.
The 1920s were a volatile time in England. With a rising unemployment rate that reached up to 70% in some areas, the nation was on a pathway for disaster. What came to be was the Great Strike in 1926, and the 1920s came to an end on a sour note. Despite the trials around them, Ernest Edward and Winifred Polly (Hewer) Pym were filled with unspeakable joy to welcome the baby girl they named Zena Irene into their hearts and home on March 14, 1926, in Birmingham, England. She was the middle of three children as she was raised in the family home alongside her older sister, Olga, and younger brother, Brian, who was 8 years younger. Their family lived above the Barley Mow Pub, which her parents managed. Zena and her sister were very close while growing up.
In many ways Zena was a young girl of her generation. She was very close to her grandad, and she spent a lot of time with him as well. She was a bit of a tomboy as she preferred things like climbing tress, riding bikes, and ice skating. Zena was very social and adventurous, and she made friends with ease at school. By the time she was 13, WWII had become a reality so Zena left school and started working. She was in the Junior Air Corps and then the Land Army, working on farms and picking crops. When she was just 14, Zena had diphtheria and was hospitalized.
During WWII, bikes were the most common form of transportation, and it was when a young American soldier was looking for a bike that Zena found the man of her dreams. His name was Kenneth Smith, and sparks flew right from the start. With a desire to spend the rest of their lives together Zena and Ken were married on August 1, 1945, which was one year to the date after they met. With the war’s end, Ken returned home according to orders, and Zena took the Queen Mary over in March with many of the other war brides. The couple was reunited in Boyne, Michigan, where he had family, but they soon moved to Lansing Michigan for schooling and jobs. Zena worked as a clerk in the office for Oldsmobile, and while eating lunch on the lawn near work she met many a state representative with her outgoing and friendly personality. A bit later, Zena and Ken moved to Grand Rapids where she started working for the Michigan Unemployment Agency. No matter where she was living, Zena easily made friends. Once in Grand Rapids she became friends with other “war brides” with whom she got together on a regular basis.
There was no greater gift in Zena’s life than her family. She and Ken truly complimented each other as they were a case of opposites attract. Zena was outgoing and social while Ken preferred to keep keep to himself. They also had a core group of friends who they did a lot with over the years, and she loved entertaining at their home as she was a natural hostess. Together Zena and Ken had two boys, and once they were born she focused her time and attention on caring for her home and family. She was a fantastic cook, and she also liked things in their place even though things didn’t always stay that way. Zena always looked forward to the English breakfasts that Ken cooked on Sundays. As a family they traveled all around including down South and all over Michigan. They even made some trips to the UK where they spent some time visiting relatives and others while taking in the country sights. Once her children were a bit older, Zena worked for Welcome Wagon for a while and then found work as a coat check at the Amway Grand Plaza. This was a job she enjoyed, and Zena never shied away from meeting and shaking hands with several dignitaries and celebrities.
Over the years Zena was a woman of many interests. She enjoyed some golf and bowling, and she then ventured into the arts with ceramics and paintings. Zena liked gardening, and she had several collections of things including Toby Cups and Royal Doulton. She always saved her dimes, and she claimed they paid for most of the things she bought in life including traveling and houses. In later years, Zena enjoyed puzzles, needlework, and playing Majon online.
During later years, Zena continued to live fully. She treasured being a grandmother, and she had a special relationship with each of the kids, making a point of doing special things with each of them. Zena’s grandchildren (and many others) called her “Nanny.” In 2002, she was deeply saddened with Ken’s death, but she did continue to make the most of the days she was given after his death. Zena enjoyed more traveling, primarily with family, but she also took some mystery trips with the Grandville Seniors. She became a huge Detroit Tigers fan, even attending a few games and getting to meet the players on the field. Zena loved nature and having picnics under a tree on the North Shore. She suffered a stroke many years ago, and although they said she would never walk again, she proved them wrong. During her sunset years, Zena did face health issues that slowly took their toll on her.
All who knew Zena Smith would agree that she was truly extraordinary. She could have a bit of a stubborn side and generally spoke her mind, but she was also one of the most loving people around. With her outgoing and genuine personality, Zena had a zest for life that was contagious to all who were near. Deeply loved, she will be forever missed.
Zena Irene Smith, age 91 of Grand Rapids, passed away January 8, 2018. She was preceded in death by her husband, Kenneth, in 2002. Zena is survived by her sons Chris (Cindy) and Nick Smith; grandchildren Jasen (Angie), Ryan (fiancé Tiani), Brandon and Nicole Smith and several great grandchildren. The service to remember and celebrate her life will be held on Friday, January 12, 2018 at 12 Noon at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home - Alt & Shawmut Hills Chapel, 2120 Lake Michigan Drive NW where friends may visit with her family from 11 AM until the service. Memorial contributions to Wounded Warrior Project are appreciated. To read more about Zena's life, share a memory or sign her guestbook, visit lifestorynet.com