Mary Jane Smith

December 3, 1929May 22, 2018

Mary Jane (Palmer) Smith grew up in Macon, Missouri, and graduated from Lincoln High School, in Moberly, Missouri, the valedictorian of her class. She lived with her parents Clarence and Bertha Palmer and her siblings Betty Jean, Johnny (J.B.), and Leon. Shortly after graduating, Mary Jane, and her cousin, Mary Virginia Morton, caught the train from Macon, to St. Joseph, Missouri, to enroll in Banks Beauty Academy.

After graduating from beauty school, Mary Jane was offered her first job as a shampoo girl at a beauty shop in Columbia, Missouri. Shortly thereafter, Bill and Catherine Bradley, a family friend from Macon, invited her to Keokuk, Iowa to open up a beauty shop. Keokuk, did not have an African American beauty shop within 100 miles and women had to do their own hair and order their beauty supplies through the mail. Mary Jane accepted the Bradley 's invitation to open an African American beauty shop. Upon hearing the news, Mary Jane's father, Clarence Palmer, gave her a celebration gift, her first car.

So Mary Jane moved to Keokuk, Iowa with her little dog Jitterbug in her new car. She also got a job working as a maid for the owners of Keokuk's Hoopiter's Flour Mill, so that she could afford to invest in the beauty equipment and supplies needed for her customers. She worked as a maid from early morning until about 2:30 pm. By 3pm, she would be ready to take care of her beauty shop customers.

As soon as her beauty shop was making enough, Mary Jane moved from the Bradley's into a room for rent. The room belonged to Aunt Richie, a retired friend of one of her beauty shop customers, Deborah Smith. Deborah Smith was the mother of Mary Jane's future husband, though she did not yet know it.

Mary Jane also became a member of the AME Church in Keokuk, and sang at funerals, since she was one of the few younger women who could get time off from work during the day when funerals were held.

Mary Jane's Beauty Shop continued to prosper, and she moved into a duplex. By then, her dreams had come true. She had become one of the town's most successful businesswomen. She also met her husband, Elmer E. Smith, Sr., her customer Deborah Smith's son.

At 29 years of age, Mary Jane closed her beauty shop and married Elmer in her hometown of Macon. The wedding had seven bridesmaids, seven bridegrooms, and was so splendid that it is still often spoken of in the town to this very day.

By 1965, Mary Jane and Elmer had two children, Gladys Marie and Elmer Eugene, Jr. By 1967, Elmer Sr. and Mary Jane had bought their first home in Denver, Colorado, a brick house with fruit trees, and there were more children, Donald, Ella, and Ruth Ann. Mary Jane returned to work at a beauty shop in Denver as a shampoo girl. She also ran a day care from her home, and she later worked as a nurse’s aide at Stovall Care Center. When Mary Jane retired, her care was provided by her children, at home.

Of being cared for at home, Mary Jane said “I'm as free as a bird, but, I have too many bosses (referring to her five children).”

While running her business, Mary Jane learned many useful life lessons. She visited many places and met many different types of people. While raising her family, Mary Jane was a tireless volunteer in her community. In the community, Mary Jane delivered meals, helped gather goods, clothing and even furniture to help others in need. She attended community meetings, she advocated patronizing local businesses. She joined in community efforts to protect the community from unscrupulous business practices.

She helped other working women pursue goals, by starting a day care from her home, and babysitting children so that their mothers, who were furthering their own education or working on their career, could have the time they needed to study or work.

While her children were growing up, Mary Jane was also an adventurous and dedicated Girl Scout leader for over ten years, driving up the side of the mountain to day camp, or pitching a tent for an overnight stay, or going horseback riding and river rafting in the great outdoors. And then, when in the city, Mary Jane attended many concerts, plays, parades and sporting events that she made certain that her children had the opportunity to participate in.

I’d like to think that, Mary Jane, right now, is as free as a bird, and is busy taking an opportunity to knock on heaven’s door, getting ready to meet all the saints in heaven.

She would share with them that here on earth, she enjoyed dancing, poetry, music and art, and that some of her favorite TV shows, were cowboy westerns, in which the good guys always won, like “Walker Texas Ranger.” She would tell the angels that she could sing the theme song, and that on her birthday she got an autographed photo of the star of the show. And that she also loved musicals where the women sang sweetly, like “The Sound of Music” or were beautifully attired and could dance all night, like in “My Fair Lady.” Or, could ease on down the road, like when she made certain her children got the opportunity to see a live performance of “The Wiz” when it was in town. She would share that she got the opportunity to celebrate her 86th Birthday with the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, seated in the front row, dancing along, in her wheelchair, to “Granny Dances to a Holiday Drum.”

She loved the opportunities her country offered. She got a birthday card from the White House for her 80th Birthday, and had an American flag posted on her bedroom wall, and could proudly recite every capital of every state. Mary Jane was a devoted parishioner of Cure d'Ars Church and made certain that her children had an opportunity to receive a good Catholic education from St. John's Montessori, Blessed Sacrament Catholic School, Bishop Machebeuf High School, Central Catholic High School and St. Mary's Academy. Mary Jane loved to quote Psalm 23 “The Lord is my Shepherd” and above her bed hangs a tapestry of sheep in a pasture being watched over by shepherds. And in her chair is a blanket, where you can comfortably sit beside Jesus, holding a lamb in his lap, and there is a Bible nearby. Going to Mary Jane’s house, to her room, was in a way a type of retreat. You could sit with her for a little while, and look at the art, listen to music, watch a movie, or read a psalm.

Mary Jane was here on earth with us for just a little while, and now she’s gone on to her heavenly reward.

Mary Jane (Palmer) Smith is preceded in death by her husband Elmer E. Smith, Sr. who passed on December 3, 2008. She is survived by her daughter Gladys, her grandson David, and son-in-law Tim Schwartz; her sons Eugene Smith and Donald Smith; her daughter Ella Smith and son-in-law Powell Griggs; and her youngest daughter Ruth A. Smith-Abrams.


  • Elmer E. Smith Sr., Husband
  • Donald Smith, Son
  • Eugene Smith, Son
  • Ruth A. Smith-Abrams, Daughter
  • Ella Smith, Daughter
  • Powell Griggs, Son-in-law
  • Gladys Schwartz, Daughter
  • Tim Schwartz, Son-in-law
  • David Duran, Grandson

  • Dewey Brigham
  • Fausey Wondmu
  • Frank Turner
  • Mehari Asres
  • Powell Griggs
  • Tim Schwartz


  • Visitation Tuesday, May 29, 2018
  • Visitation Thursday, May 31, 2018
  • Funeral Service Thursday, May 31, 2018
  • Interment Thursday, May 31, 2018

Mary Jane Smith

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Rev. Arlan Palmer

May 29, 2018

My memories are similar to my sister Crystals. We visited our Grand parents in Macon, Missouri a lot growing up. It was then we would see our cousins, Aunts and Uncle JB. We would play in the back yard and eat the wild grapes growing on the vine. Eugene and Gladys would remember some of those things. One of the times I visited my dads family was during my spring break from college during my senior year. I enjoyed getting reacquainted with many family members during that visit. One day, I spent time with Aunt Mary Jane, Uncle Elmer, Gladys and one of the other sisters. They picked me up in the van (which I will call the mystery machine) and we went driving around town seeing the sites and visiting more family members. We had a great time. We talked about the Lord and the work of the Holy spirit and what it meant to be a Christian. I had a great time with them. Aunt Mary Jane introduced me to one of the new and growing fast food restaurants. I am not sure which one it was but it might have been Hot and Now. She had one of the most beautiful smiles that was welcoming and encouraging. She loved the Lord and will truly be missed. We love you Aunt Mary Jane. My condolences to all my cousins and to my Aunt Betty Jean. Our prayers are with you all.

Edith Weiss

May 27, 2018

When Mary Jane took care of my son Chris, it was not as a babysitter but as another mother for him. Whether taking him to basketball games, playing the piano with him in her lap, or taking him with her on errands - she made him part of her family. I remember sometimes picking him up after work - sometimes as late as 2:00 a.m. - and Mary Jane would still be up, and something would be cooking on the stove. Her house was always warm with love. She made the world a better place.

Crystal Palmer-McCaw

May 27, 2018

I am so sorry to hear about the passing of Aunt Mary Jane. My mother Naomi Palmer always spoke very fondly of her. When I was young ,I remember spending summers with Grandma and Grandpa Palmer in Macon MO. Aunt Mary Jane and Uncle Elmer and their Family would often come down to visit at the same time we were there.
Our thoughts and prayer are with the family.
Crystal Palmer-McCaw and family