The late Bert Henderson had a suggestion for Ken Smith about 25 years ago, when he was beginning to consider how he could give back to his alma mater, Clemson University.
“Just start, give what you can now and grow it from there,” said Henderson, who was associate athletic director and director of IPTAY Planned Giving.
“We took him up on that,” Smith recalls. “It was a significant investment for us at the time, given where we were, and we just grew it every year.”
Smith went on to become one of Clemson’s most generous alumni, providing both time and treasure to academics and athletics.
His support helped earn him a place in the Thomas Green Clemson Academy of Engineers and Scientists. Smith returned to Clemson in April to accept the honor, the highest bestowed by Clemson’s College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences.
He told a crowd gathered in the Burton Gallery of Littlejohn Coliseum that he knows several previous inductees, including charter members Jerry Dempsey, Milt Holcombe and Les McCraw.
“It’s a tremendous honor to be nominated and selected for such an esteemed award,” Smith said.
Clemson orange runs deep in Smith and his family. His wife, Layne, is a graduate, as are all three of his daughters, Kelly, Haley and Cameron. One son-in-law, Chad, is also a Clemson graduate. While another son-in-law, Jeff, is a Ball State graduate, Smith says they have converted him to “all orange.”
Smith grew up in Taylors about one hour from Clemson and remembers applying to only two schools, Clemson and Georgia Tech. Clemson always the preferred choice, he said.
“Looking back, my mother’s sacrifice and tireless efforts to ensure I was able to attend and graduate college were very important for me,” he said in his Greer home just a few miles from where he grew up. “I think about it all the time, and it help guide me all my life.”
Smith graduated from Clemson in December 1981 with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. A few weeks later, he headed south for the Orange Bowl in Miami on a shoestring budget and watched the Tigers football team win their first National Championship.
He headed for Florida again in January 2017, this time to Tampa and with his family joining him. They watched the Tigers beat Alabama to win their second National Championship.
Smith saw both championships with his fraternity brother and friend, Bill Kinross, from Chicago.
“He’s very good luck,” Smith said. “Definitely plan to have him with us at the next championship game!”
Smith’s service and financial support for the university has been extensive.
He was instrumental in establishing the Fluor International Supply Chain Professorship held by William Ferrell and the Fluor Endowed Chair in Supply Chain Optimization and Logistics held by Scott Mason. Smith also helped create an industrial engineering master’s program focused on supply chain logistics, specifically tailored for capital projects.
He served on the Executive Committee for the university’s $1 billion Will to Lead campaign. Smith has also served two terms on the Clemson University Foundation Board and provided significant support to Clemson athletic programs, including the West End Zone and Clemson basketball.
His devotion and commitment were recognized in 2009, when he received the university’s Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Clemson Alumni Association.
Smith took early retirement from Fluor in March after a 22-year career that involved several high-level leadership roles. His work with the company included clients and projects in every continent across the world.
The departure from Fluor gave Smith the opportunity to pursue a new interest. He recently took over as CEO of HEPACO, LLC, a Charlotte based company that provides environmental and emergency response services from 30 offices and service centers across the Eastern United States.
Smith continues to stay close to his alma mater– literally. His family sold their lake home of 20 years about 20 minutes from campus and is now building a new second home on Lake Hartwell in Clemson. It’s just a short walk from football games at Memorial Stadium, basketball games at Littlejohn Coliseum and baseball games at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
“If you’re going to be close,” Smith said, “we decided to be really close.”
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