Rick Smith exudes everything western from the top of his white cowboy hat to the tips of his leather boots.
The 67-year-old Longview man lives to revive Alberta’s historic wild west and plays an instrumental role in bringing the province’s history to tourists and residents alike.
Smith is known in these parts for keeping the west alive as an avid volunteer with the iconic Calgary Stampede, Bar U Ranch National Historic Site and as the former long-time manager of Heritage Park.
He was recognized for these and other philanthropic efforts with the Mount Royal Lifetime Distinguished Achievement Award this fall.
The Mount Royal alumnus attended a business administration university transfer program at the education facility 45 years ago.
Buffy St-Amand, a member of the Mount Royal University selection committee and manager of alumni relations, said what set Smith apart from the other applicants was the numerous organizations he was involved with.
“What really stood out for us was the fact he was engaged in so many different things as a volunteer and so diverse,” she said. “For an individual to be able to find the time to commit his time and talent is quite unique.”
For Smith, life is about doing the things he enjoys while giving back to his community.
“I always felt the need to step up,” he said. “My mother was a great volunteer in her lifetime. That rubbed off on me and working with so many volunteers at Heritage Park, that rubbed off on me as well.”
This isn’t the first time Smith was recognized for his volunteerism.
He is also the recipient of the Western Legacy Award for Sustained Contribution in 2013, Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012, Alberta’s Tourism Ambassador Award in 2005 and Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002.
“I didn’t live my life working for recognition and rewards,” he said. “They weren’t self serving. As I grew and matured and started my own careers I thought when someone was asking for help at least I could give my time and talent.”
It all began in Longview where Smith spent the first nine years of his life getting a real flavour for western values and lifestyles.
Although his family moved to Calgary, his western spirit never faltered, so when he saw an advertisement for a general manager position at Heritage Park he applied for the position.
Only in his 20s at the time, Smith didn’t have management experience, but his love of the west landed him the job and he spent the next 33 years managing a community larger than the one he grew up in.
“The job at Heritage Park was just a dream come true,” he said, adding it represents the settlement of western Canada at the turn of the century. “I really believed in what the park was about. I was trying to perpetuate the visions of the founder that saw a need for such an establishment.
“It wasn’t just me, it was hundreds of other staff that really took it to the place it is today. I was just lucky to be a part of it.”
Smith said the western way of life is what started this part of the country and he feels the need to keep that identity alive.
In addition to his roles with Heritage Park and the Calgary Stampede, Smith served on the Alberta and Calgary Tourism boards.
Since returning to Longview with his wife Erika six years ago, Smith joined the Friends of the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site, Longview Library Board, Longview Music and Arts Festival.
He has also volunteered for the Sheep River Health Trust, Longview Elementary School and Rising Sun Long-Term Care at the Oilfields General Hospital.
Erika is also an avid volunteer in the community.
“Communities are very vibrant today because of the volunteers,” Smith said. “There are so many organizations that totally depend on volunteers for their existence. You create great experiences and great memories when you volunteer. You meet new people and experience new things and hope that your involvement is assisting things in moving forward.”
Longview resident, musician and volunteer Eva Levesque works alongside Smith preparing for the Longview Music and Arts Festival each summer.
“He does a great job for us,” she said. “He knows all the artist and he handles all that. He’s got an extreme passion for the community and is an absolutely wonderful volunteer. He’s enthusiastic and he loves his community and he’s got a passion for seeing it move ahead.”
Even in Smith’s retirement, volunteerism is simply a way of life.
“You’ve got to keep going, keep active, keep your mind active,” he said. “I’m that type of guy to keep busy.”