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Chris Polly
Dave Smith
Last year, Northern Kentucky University celebrated the 50th anniversary of its first graduating class. Festivities for the returning class included a tour of campus, an honorary dinner and a show at the School of the Arts. Unfortunately, there were several members of this inaugural class who were not able to attend the special events. David M. Smith was one of these individuals.

David, known as Dave to those closest to him, was born on New Year’s Day 1944. He was a northern Kentucky resident through and through. He attended Newport Catholic High School before attending NKU—then known as Northern Kentucky State College—and raised his family in the same area. As many local graduates do, he stayed close to home and made a life for himself and his family. Smith’s affection for and promotion of the university served as a thread to stitch the generations together.

Like many who found themselves in that first graduating class, Smith was a member of the armed forces and desired an education that could meet him where he was in life after returning from the draft. There were very few options that didn’t involve relocation, so Smith signed on as one of the first pioneers who established NKSC and proudly graduated with his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.

When he and his wife, Chris, who is also an NKU graduate, started building their family, Smith went on to work for U.S. Bank, working his way into the role of vice president, senior relationship manager, the role from which he would retire. As he continued through his career, Smith stayed closely tied to NKU. Aside from his time serving on the NKU Alumni Association Board of Directors, he was also named a Director Emeritus for the NKU Foundation Board after three years. Throughout his entire life, Smith advocated for both college attendance and specifically NKU, to anyone who would listen.
Dave Smith's family

"I heard so many great things about NKU from him, and I thought it was a great opportunity."


Of Smith’s three children, Jenny, Jason and Jeffrey, only Jeffrey completed his NKU degree. Even so, Smith impressed upon all three of them the commitment to stick with something you both enjoy and love, which were, for him, his feelings for the university and the bank.

“[Smith] was fifty years at the bank,” Jason says, “and my brother and I are 28 and 27 years with our companies. Dedication to the job was definitely modeled.”

Smith was sure to start early on the Norse path with his grandkids, reminding them that NKU was regionally placed so they could stay close to home and still receive a quality education. Chris Polly, Smith’s eldest grandson, graduated from NKU in December 2022.

“I graduated high school… and I kind of already knew what I wanted to do,” Polly shares. Speaking about his grandfather, Polly said that, “he went to [NKU]… and I kind of wanted to keep it in the family and go to the school that he went to.”

“Since Chris was born,” Smith’s wife, Chris, added, “[Dave] drilled into his head ‘You will go to college. You will go to Northern.’ He enforced that all of the time because he really enjoyed his experience out there. He knew everybody and everybody knew him.”

“I heard so many great things about NKU from him, and I thought it was a great opportunity,” Polly says.

At his graduation, in a touching show of respect and admiration, Polly wore the same gown that Smith wore to his own graduation ceremony.

“I was going through some things, and I kept [his gown] in a cedar chest,” his wife says. “When Jenny said that Chris was going to graduate, I said, ‘You know what? I got Papa’s. I got Papa’s gown, and I’ll show it to you.’ And then [Jenny] said, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if he could wear that?’ and I said, ‘Yes!’.” The fit was just right.”

“I think he would have been inspired to see me graduate,” Polly says.

“I know he would have been proud,” Chris adds.

Lizzie, another of Smith’s grandchildren, will be the family’s next Norse graduate, sharing plans to also wear the family graduation gown.

“Ever since kindergarten, [Papa would tell me], ‘You’re going to grow up, you’re going to do great things, you’re going to be a doctor,’” she says. “For a little bit, I wanted to go far away because that seemed fun. But then I thought, ‘No, I can’t do that. I can’t leave my family; I can’t go that far away.’”

After further thought, Lizzie noted, “I just keep on pushing through and pushing toward what I want, and so going to college, becoming a nurse, just all of that with his support has pushed me to go to NKU.”

Lizzie was accepted into NKU’s Honors College and started classes on campus last fall.

“I am excited to get into it. I was very disappointed because throughout my whole life, Papa would always talk about how he would see me graduate and it [would be] amazing.”

Jenny added, speaking to Lizzie, “He saw Chris, and he will see you.”

With three more grandchildren still coming through school, there are even more NKU graduates in the making. Justin, Smith’s other grandson, is already sure he will be a Norse, even though he is only a junior in high school. Smith’s wife, Chris, attributes this to her late husband.

“He started on them. He told them all about NKU,” she says. “But he just thought he would have more time.”

Smith’s children have stated they will happily keep his wishes for the grandkids in mind, enthusiastically encouraging the kids to explore college, and specifically NKU, for everything they would need. Smith would be #NorseProud.

About This Article

March 2024

Written by
NKU Magazine Staff