Mother of the Year

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Smith overcomes own health issues to inspire a generation

By Molly Haines

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, a mother is a woman in authority and a person who provides care and affection – but it doesn’t say much about the sacrifices many women make for their children.
This year’s Mother of the Year award was presented July 13 at the Owen County 4-H Fair and Horse Show to a woman who knows a thing or two about sacrifice.
Born in 1953 and raised in Jonesville, Veneda Caldwell Smith was the eldest of four. At a young age, Smith became a mother figure, helping to care for her sister who was 19 years younger than her.
On June 16, 1972, she married and began building a home with what her eldest child, Duane Smith, called “three very important elements” — Faith, love and obedience.
The award came to Veneda as a surprise.
“They told me that the grandkids were gonna ride,” Smith said. “I always try to get out to the fair to watch them ride the rides. My daughter-in-law works in the beauty pageants and we were gonna wait on her. It was totally logical.”
Veneda Smith’s first child was born in 1973 and another came in 1977.
In his letter nominating Veneda for the award, Duane said by the time his mother had her first child, she already knew everything to do.
“Her new role as a mother came without obstacle,” Duane said. “Because for years she had been honing her skills as a caretaker and mother figure. ... Little did we know, while she was taking care of the needs of others, even the needs of strangers, she would soon fall severely ill with a diseased liver.”
Throughout the following years, Veneda struggled with her illnesses, but continued to take care of her children and later, grandchildren.
During this time, she worked at Owenton Manor, assisting the needs of elderly patients, and was active in her church. And in 1996, Veneda gave birth to a baby girl.
Her daughter was born healthy, but Veneda’s condition worsened.
In 2005, she was put on a liver transplant list and in 2006, a donor was found.
“Her new liver would be that of a 14-year-old boy who was tragically killed in a car accident,” Duane said in the nomination letter. “ ... We agreed that she would not be told the specifics until after she had recovered. Of course, just as we thought, when we shared the story, she wept and felt undeserving. Tears ran down her face as she shook her head no.”
Veneda said it was her children and God who kept her going throughout her illnesses.
“I’ve got strong faith,” Veneda said. “I knew God was gonna see me through it. You wanna live and do your best for children and grandchildren. They’re my main inspiration aside from the Lord.”
Veneda made a full recovery and has since continued to care for her three children and five grandchildren.
“My mother’s story may be common to you,” Duane said. “But to me she is an extraordinary woman who nearly gave her life to take care of others.”
Veneda said watching children grow up and learn new things is one of her favorite parts of being a mother.
“Watching them do different things, learning different things, seeing them grow ... all of it,” Veneda said. “My grandson plays baseball and I try to get to most of his games. My oldest granddaughter used to cheerlead and I liked watching that. And I babysit my littlest grandchild. Just being able to watch them develop is something else.”