After a long eventful life Gerow Smiley died peacefully on Jan 24, 2021 at home in Redlands CA, where he spent most of his time since retiring from full time involvement at Mohonk. He would have been 99 on March 26. He holds the distinction of being the oldest family member of the multiple generations at Mohonk.
Gerow was born in Poughkeepsie, NY on March 26, 1922 — the oldest son of Francis and Rachel Smiley. His mother had come to Mohonk from North Abbington, MA as an organist, and married Francis Smiley, who with his brother Albert, owned and operated Mohonk Mountain House. Gerow, with his 3 siblings — Rachie, Frannie, and Pat — spent his childhood years at Mohonk with the entire property as home and playground. He learned intimate details of the business and the land on which it operated.
Gerow’s work experience also began at Mohonk at an early age, taking on assignments for many different jobs as he became old enough. His favorite tasks were any that involved outdoor work, especially around the farms and working with horses.
Later school years were at the Quaker West Town School, and Haverford College. At Haverford he became an accomplished wrestler, and met new and interesting people — including girls. His scholastic achievements were satisfactory but un-remarkable and he chose to leave Haverford before graduating in order to explore the country and expand his experiences. His curiosity and an adventurous spirit – and probably a desire to escape from constraints of life in the east — took him to Texas and Arizona to sample the genuine cowboy lifestyle. It turned out he was well suited for this change; thriving in the outdoors, greatly enjoying the constant activity with horses.
During this introduction to the cowboy life he married Marion Bonnell, who was from Grahamsville, NY and had worked at Mohonk. This period was also the time the country became involved in WWII. He avoided the draft by way of an agricultural deferral, and then chose to enroll in the Navy. He was stationed in San Diego where he selected training as a medic. Throughout his navy career he remained in San Diego, where 1st son –Doc — was born.
In 1946, Gerow was discharged from the Navy and his first move was back to the cowboy life. However, his love and interest in horses, plus his recent experience as a medic prompted him to jump at an opportunity for further education, presented in the form of the GI Bill. He enrolled in the CSU Veterinary College at Ft. Collins, CO.
This abrupt decision proved to be life changing. He did well academically, loved the work with animals, and had fun and success as a rodeo bronc rider, evidenced by prize silver buckles. He also experienced the pain of a broken leg. And he continued his winning ways as a wrestler until he was matched against an Iowa boy who later placed in the Olympics.
Graduating from vet school in 1951, Gerow’s life path quickly changed course again. Rather than becoming firmly established in veterinary practice, he felt the call to return to Mohonk. Over the next several years he worked with his father Francis, his uncle Albert, and cousins Dan and Keith. Gerow’s primary areas of responsibility were the rustic crews (outdoors), and overall personnel management. He always had a focus on the land and farms associated with Mohonk. At the same time he had a genuine interest and curiosity about the people who participated in the operation; he was readily accessible to staff and guests alike. He believed in basic, simple, quality of service; and he found time for an active social life — playing guitar, singing cowboy songs, and calling square dances.
During the years at Mohonk, Gerow and Marion had two more sons — Kip in Jan, 1952 and David in Oct. 1953. Gerow took a leave of absence from Mohonk to take a position as manager of a large dairy in central Florida, but apparently this venture was not entirely to his liking and he soon returned to Mohonk.
But, in spite of his love for the place and the people at Mohonk, Gerow again heard the call of the west and an urge to put his professional veterinary training to better use. In early 1960’s, he studied rigorously in order to test for and renew his DVM license. Marion and Gerow divorced. He then moved to a veterinary practice in WY; then to Petaluma/Cotati, CA where he spent 15 years enjoying a practice busy with horses and other farm animals—-and quickly building a whole new circle of good friends. At the same time, he maintained a high level of personal connections and communications with Mohonk — on the Board of Directors and in other advisory capacities, and spending time on site at Mohonk almost every year.
As years went by, physical demands of veterinary practice became more challenging and Gerow’s attention was again drawn full time to challenges of family operations at Mohonk. In 1980, he again moved east to be fully engaged in the resort operations — while reserving time each winter to go to Redlands, CA for R&R — a tradition established by his grandfather Daniel many years before. In 1988, Gerow “officially” retired from full time work at Mohonk. However, just “to keep busy”, he took on several important projects. He established and then oversaw the operation of a very substantial composting enterprise on the property — which enables Mohonk to utilize essentially all of the food waste and used horse bedding/manure to produce fertilizer used in the gardens and golf course. Another major project was the co-founding and development, with friend Dan Guenther, of a community supported agriculture farm (CSA). For many years Brook Farm Project provided produce to many local residents, as well as delivering fresh vegetables for use in the Mountain House dining room.
In recent years, Gerow greatly enjoyed yearly visits to Mohonk, and seeing his extensive group of friends and family, but the climate in Redlands was much more suitable in his advancing years. He continued to keep busy volunteering at the Redlands Community Hospital, and in the A. K. Smiley Library’s adult literacy program, and campaigned in many ecological initiatives.
Gerow is survived by 3 sons, from his first marriage, to Marion—Doc in MT, David and Kip in CA; his wife Wendy, living in NYS; 5 grandchildren; 5 great grandchildren; and numerous nephews, nieces and cousins.
Reflecting on his life, Gerow wrote: “I enjoyed my time here on earth and I leave, to be shared and shared alike, to all of my family and friends, my pleasant memories of a good life”. His favorite poem is by HG Holland, “Death is Nothing at All”.
We will appreciate and enjoy additional memories and stories about Gerow through his nearly century long presence with us. They can be shared by clicking on “comments”.
It is suggested that any gifts in his memory be made to your favorite agricultural organizations — such as a CSA, local farm markets, school ag education programs, or American Farmland Trust.