Ten years ago, Connie Smith began taking a water aerobics class at 5 Cities Swim School in Arroyo Grande. A month later, the teacher quit. Connie was asked to teach the class herself.
Now 92, she has been teaching the class for free all this time, because she likes it so much. She takes the Ride-On shuttle on Wednesdays because of her macular degeneration and retinal problems, but she gets rides from students and friends on Mondays and Fridays.
Connie and her husband, Stan, retired here from Redondo Beach in 1980.
They bought land in the eastern Arroyo Grande hills, built a home, planted oats and alfalfa, and brought up 16 cows. Her husband liked to work a farm and stay active, even in retirement. He passed away in 2007 at almost 90.
Connie has been very active all her life. She and Stan married at 21 and 24, respectively, just before he enlisted in the service. She was in nursing school, but soon Stan had to go overseas to fight in World War II.
Connie was pregnant with her first child, Carol Louise. Stan came home 13 months later when the baby was 9 months old. Connie did not finish her nursing degree. It was important to her that her kids come home to a mom and cookies, rather than a cold house.
Six more children ensued. “My kids were all taught to work from the time they were little,” she said. The Smiths always had a farm and worked it, in addition to Stan’s teaching history and English and coaching football and baseball in high school in Gardena.
All the children helped build the family houses on land they bought — three in all. Now on the current land, two of Connie’s retired sons have planted olive trees, yielding about 8,000 pounds.
One son has built a beautiful large new deck on the house overlooking their valley. Another is an artist; his paintings and wood sculptures adorning the living room.
Carol Louise, their eldest daughter, now approaching 70, recently visited from Los Angeles. She had wanted to be a nun from a young age, but her dad had her wait until she finished college. Then she enrolled in St. Joseph Carondelets, an order of nuns, with whom she has been since.
Besides teaching water aerobics, Connie keeps busy singing in the St. Patrick’s choir and crocheting tablecloths for friends and family. In the past she organized St. Patrick’s meals for People’s Kitchen, which they served on the SLO Mission steps.
Connie is adjusting to her diminished reading ability. “You get different surprises from every age,” she said. She has discovered the Braille Reader, which allows her to pick out fiction and nonfiction, play the tapes and listen. “Since I got this, I am so happy.”
The Braille Institute sends a new list every three months, with representatives coming to the area monthly. It’s all free. Call (805) 682-6222 for more information.
When asked what keeps her going, Connie says “probably God, my religion and my big family.” Connie has 18 grandchildren and 13 great grandkids.