Vernell “Brer” Smith was born on Monday, January 23, 1950 in Clark County, Arkansas to Alfred Jerry Smith and the late Mollie Newburn Smith. Vernell was the second of five children. He was preceded in death by his younger brother Harry Smith.
Vernell attended Peake Elementary School in Arkadelphia, Arkansas and graduated from Peake High School in 1968. He went on to further his education at Henderson State University, and received his Bachelors of Science Degree in Business Administration in 1972. He later moved to Detroit, Michigan to work for the “big three” automakers. Vernell began at Ford Motor Company and briefly worked for the Internal Revenue Service. He later received his Masters of Arts in Management from Central Michigan University in 1986 and retired in 2012 from General Motors after 39 years of service.
Vernell was introduced to the love of his life Alma, at a house party. Following their courtship, they were united in holy matrimony on June 19, 1981. To this union, their beloved daughter, Juliette, was born. Vernell was a caring and devoted family man. He and his wife enjoyed many pastimes together including tennis, ballroom dancing, line dancing and even taking Spanish classes. He loved participating in all of Juliette’s activities – from parent-child swimming lessons, father-daughter basketball teams, and skiing – even if he bruised a rib or two. Vernell was also devoted to his extended family. After his mother-in-law moved in, they could be found in the kitchen sharing their love of cooking and baking and perfecting southern recipes.
Vernell was a lifelong follower of Christ. He accepted Christ at an early age and was baptized at Pleasant Hill AME church in Joan, Arkansas. He later joined SS Andrew and Benedict Catholic Church in 1985 where he received the sacraments of Communion and Confirmation. Vernell was an active member of the church serving as Lector, Rosary Society member, and Eucharistic Minister for the Homebound. He was also a member of the Parish Counsel serving as secretary. In 1997, Vernell received the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Keep the Dream Alive” Award from the Archdioceses of Detroit in recognition for his outstanding ministry. Vernell was also an active member of the Monsignor Champion Counsel of The Knights of Columbus and served in the role of Grand Knight at the time of his death. He was often found volunteering at “Rouge Days” and Pancake and Prayer Breakfasts’ which raised funds for various charities.
Vernell was an avid cook and enjoyed baking pies and cakes for family holidays. When he found out his future son-in-law’s favorite desert was cherry pie, he baked several different types for Thanksgiving. Vernell was also well known for his “cha cha” and often provided canned jars to family and friends. Vernell enjoyed many sports including karate and golf. He also was an avid swimmer. He was one of the first children to desegregate the city pool in Arkadelphia and even designed and built an in-ground pool at his home in Detroit. Ask any family member about that pool and they will definitely have a story to tell you. Vernell most loved tennis. He was an active USTA league member and team captain. You could often find him and his wife on the local courts and they even traveled to the Citi Open in Washington D.C.
If you knew Vernell, you knew he was a quiet, kind, and loving man and was always willing to lend a helping hand to those in need. Vernell departed this life Monday, September 21, 2020 after a brief but courageous battle with cancer. He was preceded in death by his mother Mollie Smith and brother Harry Smith. He leaves to cherish his loving memory: his father, Alfred Jerry Smith; wife, Alma; daughter, Juliette (Joseph) Henderson; sisters Darnell (Claude) Newsom, Bedie (Willie) Reed, and Mammie (Carl) Cummings; sisters-in-law Rita (Lerushlon) Spuling and Lynett (Wilburt) Sluis; and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends.
Funeral services were held at St. Andrews & Benedict in Detroit, Michigan on Friday, October 2, 2020, under the direction of Kemp Funeral Home in Southfield, Michigan. Farewell Ceremony and final resting place will be on Friday, October 30, 2020, at 3:00 P.M. at Pleasant Hill Cemetery in JoAnn, AR under the direction of Mitchell Funeral Home in Arkadelphia, AR.
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