Gene Smith admits that holidays are a little different in his family. Despite a rigorous schedule juggling the commitment of 36 collegiate sports as vice president and director of Athletics for The Ohio State University, he and his wife, Sheila, make it a priority to bring together their blended family, which includes four children and five grandchildren. Their “holidays” just take on a different form—like getting together during OSU-Michigan football weekend.
“We’ll go back to being more normal after Gene retires,” laughed Sheila, a former athlete, coach, athletic administrator, and development officer who now runs her own consulting business.
Married 18 years, the couple have called Columbus home since 2005. Gene describes Columbus as a city that has great leadership, collaboration, and diversity.
“And you can have fun here,” he said.
Beyond the university, the Smiths are very involved in the community. Reflecting on how their families viewed philanthropy when they were younger, they each recognize that though the paths may have been different, the message was the same—helping others is important.
“My family wasn’t financially in a spot where we could be philanthropic with charities, but my parents demonstrated giving back, or paying forward, by helping our extended family,” Gene said.
“Columbus is progressive—it has a real focus on getting better and growing the right way.”
Some of Sheila’s best lessons came from her mother, and the simple things she did to help her grandmother, like setting up an account with a cab company when she could no longer drive.
“My Grandma got her independence back—and I just thought that was the most incredible gift,” Sheila said. “People give in different ways, but I think for both of us, our families of origin really shaped how we feel about our extended family, too.”
A friend encouraged them to look at The Columbus Foundation to help with their charitable giving. In 2013, they created their Donor Advised Fund, the Sheila and Gene Smith Fund.
“We are really focused on education—that is our biggest passion,” Gene said. Through their fund, they have supported organizations including the Columbus Metropolitan Library, Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus, YWCA Columbus, and The Ohio State University Foundation.
“At this stage of our lives, we have a lot going on,” Sheila said. “Having an entity that is so well organized and so well respected manage giving on our behalf is just fabulous for us.”