Over a hundred people gathered at the Kickin Horse Saloon and Eatery in Happys Inn Saturday to remember beloved local handyman and artist Don “Donnie” Smith.
An open seat was increasingly hard to find as people started to pour in before the 1 p.m. start. The pool table, converted into a buffet, was quickly covered in warming pots, bowls and platters brimming with food.
Plates were soon filled, and the air thick with memories and laughter, as people celebrated Smith’s life rather than dwell on his death.
Smith took his own life May 2, hours after destroying property associated with Happy’s Roadhouse Inn and evading law enforcement personnel. Many believe a mental health break was to blame.
Debbie Wallace, one of Smith’s five sisters, traveled from her southwestern Oregon home to attend Saturday’s gathering. She said the last time she saw her brother was a couple summers ago, when he visited her and took it upon himself to help organize her husband George’s shop.
“He was always doing stuff,” Wallace said. “He was cool people. He’d give you the shirt of his back. It’s going to be hard not having him around.”
Photos of Smith were displayed on two cork boards set against a back wall. In one image he was logging with his horse Nancy; in another he wore his homemade Viking costume. Others depicted him playing with his grandsons, standing alongside his artwork or posing with actors filming various movies.
Smith’s image burned strong in peoples’ minds, too. Agnes Kemp of Happys Inn said she doesn’t know who to call now if she needs plowing or something welded.
“You felt so comfortable being able to ask him to do anything,” she said.
Sometimes she didn’t have to ask. Once, while traveling in Arizona, Kemp learned it was snowing back home. She called Smith to ask if he could plow her driveway. He started laughing, and said he already plowed it the previous day.
Kemp pointed to the hundred or more people in the Kickin Horse as evidence of “how much Donnie affected all of us.”
“It’s a really nice turnout,” said Becca Smith of Kalispell, Donnie’s daughter. “It feels good,” she said, to share good memories and thoughts with his friends and family.