Naomi Helen Smith, 87, of Eau Claire, WI, passed away peacefully on January 4, 2022, at Dove Healthcare South, Eau Claire, with family and several special caregivers at her side.
Naomi was born on March 17, 1934, in Milan, WI, to William and Helen (Bischoff) Hackel. Growing up the fourth oldest in a family of 14 children, she learned responsibility at a young age. Life on a dairy farm in Colby, WI, compelled her to develop a strong work ethic and a will to persevere no matter the obstacle.
At 10 years old, with her mother in the hospital and threshing crews in the fields, her father put her in charge of the kitchen. He was so impressed with her abilities that he later volunteered Naomi and her older sister to prepare meals for neighbors in need. She often cared for her younger siblings while her mother worked in the garden and fields.
After graduating from Colby High School, Naomi earned a one-year diploma from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. She taught in Colby at the age of 19, and later earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (formerly Eau Claire State Teachers College). While in college she worked as a carhop at a local burger joint. It was there that she met a young man who would stop after his shifts at the State Theater. He soon became a regular customer, and on June 1, 1957, her husband.
Naomi taught in Eau Claire for several years before selflessly putting her career on hold so she and Don could start a family. She later returned to the classroom as a substitute teacher. While her first love was raising and teaching children, she also enjoyed music, gardening, reading and sports. Her family often supplied her with various sports schedules, and called her with Kentucky Derby and Packers reminders. In turn, she offered play-by-play of exciting girls’ and boys’ basketball state tournament games.
Despite physical limitations following brain surgery in 2001, Naomi remained undeterred, and goal-driven. In 2003, she authored Recipes from the Farmlands, a cookbook containing simple, healthy recipes. Recipients of the cookbook often reached out to her, sometimes in writing, to share their stories of success. She enjoyed the comments because she valued a home-cooked meal, where families gathered, and children were fed.
Over 1,200 copies of the cookbook were sold through various efforts. She and Don enjoyed peddling cookbooks at events in surrounding communities, always returning home with stories of the wonderful people they met. Recipes from the Farmlands was featured at the local Borders bookstore. According to the store manager, Naomi’s book signing was one of the store’s most well-attended events. The cookbook was dedicated to Naomi and Don’s oldest daughter, Debra Altmann, who passed away suddenly in 1999, at the age of 39.
Naomi became known as a “kitchensmith” and with Don’s typing assistance, she contributed recipes as author of the Senior Review’s Table Talk section. Clearly, their combined efforts proved to be the recipe for a strong and supportive partnership.
After Don’s passing on January 1, 2017, Naomi moved to Milestone Senior Living, and later, Dove Healthcare South. At both facilities she quickly developed friendships with residents, taking a particular interest in helping those in need. It seems her mission in life was to include others in conversations and activities. She used “puzzle time” as an opportunity to challenge herself and to nurture her relationships with others. She held the position of Resident Council President at both facilities, taking the responsibility of representing her peers very seriously.
Naomi experienced several health setbacks the past two years, but with the help of physical, occupational and speech therapy, she quickly recovered and was driven to maintain her independence. She insisted on doing things herself, no matter the effort; so often, the effort was great.
Naomi was preceded in death by her parents; parents-in-law Bernard and Anna Smith; daughter Debra; husband Donald; sister Nancy Murray; brothers Joseph, William, and Bernard Hackel; sister-in-law Delores Hackel; brothers-in-law James Whalen, James Smith, and Dale Apfelbeck; and nephews Gary Westphal and Douglas Apfelbeck.
She is survived by her children David (Brenda) Smith, Oshkosh, WI; Jean (Steve) Glocke, Eau Claire, WI; John (Cheri Larson) Smith, Cumberland, WI; Mary Elizabeth Smith, Indianapolis, IN; grandsons Tim (Melanie) Goeckerman, Fond du Lac, WI, children Zoey and Lindy; Jon (Tiffinie) Goeckerman, North Fond du Lac, WI, children Lily, Mallory and Ian; Jesse (Ashley) Smith, Oshkosh, WI, daughter Avery; Steven (Tiffany) Glocke, Davis, CA, children Ynez and Ezra; Matthew (Ashley) Glocke, Denver, CO; Nathan Glocke, Boulder, CO; and Mathew Larson, Superior, WI.
She is further survived by her brothers Ervin, Ronald, Larry, Ralph, and Kenneth (Pam Hass) Hackel; sisters Marilyn Whalen, Eleanor (Dale) Chambers, Imogene Apfelbeck, and Doreen (Greg) Mertens; sisters-in-law Victoria Hackel and Joyce Smith; brother-in-law Bill Murray; special cousin Jim Backhaus; and 42 beloved nieces and nephews.
The family would like to thank Dr. Joanna Setla, Mayo Clinic Health System, Eau Claire, for the competent, compassionate care their mother received the past twenty years. Not only was she her provider, she became a trusted friend. The last year of her life she was treated by OakCare providers Dr. Erik Dickson and Amanda Bradley, N.P., whose skilled care allowed her to maintain her independence until her final days.
Deepest gratitude goes to the caring, dedicated staff at Dove Healthcare South. They are amazing people who not only provided care for Naomi, but shared pieces of themselves with her, enriching her life in ways they will never know. She seemed to think it was unusual that staff would stop by her room to tell her they were leaving for the day. She often said she felt more like their mother than a resident. What she didn’t realize was, because they mattered to her, she mattered to them.
Heartfelt thanks are also extended to L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library Homebound Service, Eau Claire; Meals on Wheels, Eau Claire; Visiting Angels, Eau Claire; and to the many neighbors and friends who enhanced Naomi’s life throughout the years.
A mass of Christian burial will be held on Thursday, January 13, 2022, at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Eau Claire. Visitation will be held from 9:30-11:30 a.m. The mass will follow at 11:30 a.m. with Father Francis Thadathil officiating. Lunch will be served immediately following the service, and the family asks that masks be worn during the celebration. A private burial will take place at St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, Colby, WI, at a future date.
The service for Naomi will be livestreamed at FUNERAL- Naomi Helen Smith - YouTube
In lieu of flowers, Naomi has requested that donations be made in her memory to Dove Healthcare South, Recreation Department, 3656 Mall Dr., Eau Claire, WI 54701; Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, 1712 Highland Ave., Eau Claire, WI 54701; or Televised Mass, Diocese of La Crosse, P.O. Box 4004, La Crosse, WI 54602-4004.
Friends and family may offer condolences online at www.hulkefamilyfh.com.
Hulke Family Funeral Home & Cremation Services, 3209 Rudolph Rd., Eau Claire, WI 54701 is assisting the family with the arrangements.
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