In high school, young Gary Smith studied clarinet with Frealon Bibbins of the San Francisco Symphony. In 1952, after graduating from Healdsburg High School, he entered Santa Rosa Junior College for one year and then transferred to UC Berkeley graduating with honors in 1956. From 1956 to 1959 he did a three year tour of duty in the Army, playing in the 6th Army Band as principal clarinet. His music teaching career began in the Oakland Public Schools where he served from 1960 to 1967.
In the spring of 1967, Gary was hired as one of the first full time faculty members at Ohlone College. As a Pioneer Faculty member, he was involved in preparing for the college opening for classes in September 1967. He helped build the curriculum and programs at the temporary Serra Campus on Washington Boulevard in Fremont and was involved in preparing the college to move to the permanent campus on Mission Boulevard in 1974. He served the college with distinction for 26 years as professor of music, Division Director and Acting Vice President of Instruction and retired in 1993. Upon his retirement, he was awarded Emeritus status.
While working at Ohlone he continued his education completing a Master’s Degree at Cal State Hayward the year he was hired. In 1971 he was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant and entered Stanford University, earning a doctorate in 1974. From 1962-1984 he was a professional musician performing with the Oakland Symphony Orchestra. During the summer months of 1969-1976, he conducted the shows at Woodminster Amphitheatre in Oakland.
Dr. Smith gained the respect and cooperation of the faculty, staff and students at Ohlone for his unfailing commitment to high standards, personal integrity and dedication to the mission, values and goals of the college. He demonstrated highly effective leadership and administrative styles. Gary is fondly remembered for his passion for the arts, dedication to supporting faculty and students, and tireless participation and leadership in the development of Ohlone College as a whole.
Gary played an important role on the team that gained state funding for a new performing arts facility. HE then provided diligent leadership working with college staff and architects in the design of the new facility. The projected started in 1988. Perhaps the proudest moment in his 33 years in education was the completion of the Center for the Fine and Performing Arts with a gala opening in October, 1995. After creating a Charitable Remainder Unitrust, the Center bears his name, Gary Soren Smith Center for the Fine and Performing Arts.
In the 21 years (as of this writing) since the opening of the Smith Center, hundreds upon hundreds of students have benefited from the learning and experiences provided by the Smith Center programs. And the Smith Center has become a major venue for performances in the greater East Bay region and thousands of people have attended theater, music and dance performances there, along with many other college and community events.
During his tenure at Ohlone, Gary was active in the community serving on the Boards of the Fremont Philharmonic and the Fremont Cultural Arts Council. After retirement, he and his wife Faye moved to Sonoma County where his involvement in the arts continued. He served on the board of the Russian River Chamber Music and on the development committee of the Santa Rosa Symphony. In addition, Gary and Faye endowed the principal viola chair of the Santa Rosa Symphony, the first in the orchestra.