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Retirement means more time for ministry. Smiths continue to serve as Friends of Ukraine

December 25, 2006, 0:00 1919 Author: John R. Pulliam register-mail.com

GALESBURG - After selling the Midas Muffler shop, 1223 N. Henderson St., after about 24 years of ownership, Lee Smith said he'll miss the people.

Smith also once owned Ziebart's, 513 W. Main St., the current location of Benny's Auto Depot. Smith said the company he sold the Midas franchise to - Auto Systems Experts - will continue to operate as Midas but is not the company with which he had his franchise.

After about 30 years in the automotive field here, Smith said he and his wife, Carolyn, may look for something to do so they can still work with the public.

"The people in Galesburg are good people," Lee Smith said. "You get the regular clients you had for 20 years and you're going to miss seeing them every day."

Smith, 75, and his wife are unlikely to become bored. For the past seven years, they have been part of a ministry in the Ukraine, part of the former Soviet Union. According to the Galesburg Area Friends of Ukraine newsletter, published Aug. 25, members traveled 2,500 miles around the Kirovograd region this past summer. The city of Kirovograd has a population of about 300,000. The Friends of Ukraine visited nine of 14 day camps held this year, conducted a number of medical outreach programs, and visited two nursing homes and an orphanage.

Smith said there are few nursing homes. Members make a point to visit the older people.

"They're just crying and flabbergasted that Americans would come over there to their little homes," he said. "We're working mostly with the poorer people and we don't see that much improvement (in their standard of living). Now, the upper class, it is changing a little bit for the better."

The Smiths attend Bethel Baptist Church, but the Ukraine ministry is non-denominational.

Despite the crushing poverty faced by a large portion of the population, Lee Smith said in one way, the Ukraine is ahead of the U.S.

"The family is still more intact over there and operates more as a unit than we do over here. They still get together in the evening" and eat together, Smith said, something increasingly rare here. Rare in the Ukraine, however, is food, a serious concern for the poor.

"Most of the people over there are very humble and they appreciate what you do for them," Smith said, adding that the people of Galesburg always come through.

"I would say we have 300 to 400 families who contribute to the fund we use over there," he said. "Over the years, it has been a community effort. I've told them (Ukranians) over the years it is because of the people of Galesburg that they have this."

The Smiths pay their own travel expenses, he said.

"We have to kind of rely on the Lord, from the standpoint we said years and years and years ago we wanted to go somewhere in the world we could make a humanitarian difference," Smith said. "He kind of paved the way for us. We're confident if He wants us to go back, we will be able to."

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