Leonard Sander Smith

June 23, 1932August 8, 2013
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Dr. Leonard Sander Smith The life, professional career, and books of Dr. Leonard S. Smith, Emeritus Professor of History at California Lutheran University, were shaped by the religious faith of his father and mother and by “a Lutheran Ethos.” Although he was born in Sterling, Illinois (June 23, 1932), he was raised (1934-1949) in a mainly Lutheran and Swedish village of about 600 souls in southwestern Iowa called Stanton. Here his life was shaped by the facts that his father, the Rev. A. Leonard Smith, was a Lutheran pastor and the pastor of a large Swedish Lutheran congregation, for in the 1930s and 1940s, this congregation had about twice as many members as the number of inhabitants in the town. During the eleven years that this “PK” (preacher’s kid) attended classes in the twelve-grade, single building Stanton Public School, Leonard loved to play basketball and became an Eagle Scout. Leonard Smith’s early life was also deeply shaped by the two Lutheran colleges that he attended after graduating from high school in Spencer, Iowa in 1950. The first of these was a very small two-year college and academy in Wahoo, Nebraska called Luther College, a school that was so small that he could make the basketball team and that the president was his faculty advisor. In fact, the best academic advice he ever received was from this Lutheran pastor, for when this freshman was pressed to declare a major, he was informed that anyone who was even considering the possibility of becoming a Lutheran pastor, should take a history major, three years of German, and two years of Greek. This was great advice because here his history and German professors were excellent teachers who provided him with a basic foundation not only for his two years at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois (1952-1954) but also for his whole professional career. At this college Leonard first had the opportunity to play on a tennis team and to develop a life-long passion for this sport. Just a few months after graduating from Augustana, Leonard was drafted into the United States Army (1954-1956). This was also a formative experience, for after sixteen weeks of infantry training in Texas and California, he was sent to Germany where he was a clerk in charge of “message center” in the headquarters of the 9th Infantry Division. This was a formative experience because of the nature of his work, his many travel opportunities, his learning to speak German, and his now greatly strengthened interest in German history and culture. After completing an M.A. degree in history from the University of Iowa (1958), he was very fortunate in being hired as an instructor of history at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa (1958-1960). Here, on September 2, 1959, he married Sharon Faye Ronning, a graduate of Luther (1956), and an instructor of physical education as well (1957-1960), and the love of his life. In August 1960, they moved to St. Louis, Missouri so that he could begin his course work toward a Ph. D. degree at Washington University. During their two years in St. Louis (1960-1962) their first two children were born, Eric (9/27/1960) and Kirk (7/30/1962). Here Leonard was especially fortunate that his Ph.D. advisor, Professor Dietrich Gerhard, was also a professor at the University of Gottingen and the Assistant Director of the Ma Planck Institute for History in Gottingen, and that through his assistance Dr. Smith was granted a Fulbright Fellowship to this German university and a place to do his research (1962-1964) at this research institute. In April 1964, Sharon flew to her parent’s home in Bismark, North Dakota to give birth to a third child, Sander (6/7/1964), while his father was doing archival research in Berlin (both West and East) and in communist East Germany; and at the end of August the Smiths returned to Luther College in Decorah. During the first two years of the five wonderful years (1964-1969) when Dr. Smith was an assistant professor of history at Luther College, the only form of transportation for his family was two bicycles with three bike seats. Soon after Leonard received hi Ph.D. degree from Washington University (1967), however, he bought a large station wagon (an Impala Chevrolet) and the Smith family became avid campers. In the summer of 1969 they camped from coast to coast, for before he accepted a position as head of the History Department at California Lutheran College at the rank of associate professor of history, he had accepted a summer teaching position at Sir George Williams University in Montreal, Canada. During the forty-four years that he and Sharon lived in Thousand Oaks, the main event was the birth of Kirstin (10/14/1971), their first and only daughter. Especially during the 1970s, both Leonard and Sharon became very active in their new community, he as President of the Conejo Valley Democratic Club and a member of the Ventura County Democratic Central Committee, and she as the chief initiator and director for several summer youth programs and as a member of the Ventura County Grand Jury (1977-78). Sharon also had a professional career, teaching thirty-seven years in the local schools, developing educational programs in care facilities for senior citizens, and making numerous presentations at conferences and conventions. Especially since the early 1990s, most of their community involvement has centered on the activities and programs of the Scandinavian American Cultural and Historical Foundation at California Lutheran and Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. During the twenty-nine years that Professor Smith taught at California Lutheran College/University (1969-1998), he was most proud of (1) his leadership in promoting interdisciplinary and team-teaching programs and courses, especially the excellent, four discipline (English, History, Philosophy, and Religion) “Humanities Tutorial” honors course and the History Department’s team-taught “World Civilizations” course; (2) the faculty governance system which he, more than anyone else, helped to shape plus the two years that he served as Faculty Chair and member of the Board of Regents, and (3) the three-week summer institute for academic leaders from the three Baltic countries in 1992 and 1993 that he—with the great assistance of his wife Sharon—founded and directed. In the year 2002, at a ten-year anniversary and international celebration at the University of Riga in Latvia, where they did a joint lecture-video presentation of the ten years of growth and success of each of the southern California colleges and universities that these scholars had visited, the Smiths’ learned how much this institute and these scholars had helped not only in reshaping higher education in the three Baltic countries but also how these countries had now become educational models for other countries. Dr. Smith’s “knowledge of subject” and “enthusiasm,” which were always at the top of his student evaluations, culminated in 2009 when he published a life-work called Religion and the Rise of History: Martin Luther and the Cultural Revolution in Germany, 1760 to 1810. This possibly “transformative” work was followed and supplemented in 2011 by an essay called, Martin Luther’s Two Ways of Viewing Life and the Educational Foundation of a Lutheran Ethos. As Sharon Smith liked to say to friends, Leonard felt very blessed that he lived long enough to see both of these books in print. Dr. Smith and his wife Sharon were also blessed by many years of travel, enjoying their timeshares, and by the grand celebration of their golden wedding anniversary at the Welk Resort (near San Diego) and dinner-dance party in Carlsbad, California on Sharon’s seventy-fifth birthday (7/29/2009). Here they were honored by their four children and their spouses, their four grandchildren, and many relatives and friends. As Dr. Smith liked to say to young couples, the most important key to a long and successful marriage is that both the wife and the husband are fully convinced that he is the luckiest man who ever lived. As Christians, however, they also believed that their many blessings were more than a matter of luck; for on their common grave stone on can find the words, “May the Kingdom of God come to us all.” In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations in memory of Leonard Smith be made to: The Building Fund at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Thousand Oaks or The California Lutheran University Ander-Smith Family Scholarship Fund. Please join Dr. Smith’s family and friends at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church at 1 West Avenida De Los Arboles, Thousand Oaks for his service on Saturday August 24th at 2pm.


  • Celebration of Life Saturday, August 24, 2013

Leonard Sander Smith

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December 26, 2013

Dr. Smith was such a special person in my life. His words were always an inspiration and his devotion to all students. It was a joy to meet with him in later years and to share thoughts and philosophy. My love to Sharon and the family. I hope someone will please connect with me so I can share a hug and words with Sharon in person. oxxo Gail Small

September 4, 2013

Our sympathy to your family. We have his books at our Swedish Heritage & Cultural Center, his father's desk, and his writings, plus a number of pictures. Marlene Kennon

Duane Falk

September 1, 2013

My warm memories come from Leonard's early years. Scouts, basketball and much time spent together doing a variety of things that a small town has to offer. I extend my sympathy to your family.

August 28, 2013

Sorry for your loss from those of us from Stanton.

Mickey Anderson

Ed & Peggy & Eddie Kasaba

August 26, 2013

Sharon and Family,
We are so very sorry for you and your family's loss. Our deepest sympathies are with you and your families.

Robert Swanstrom

August 22, 2013

Dear Sharon,

Such a wonderful life, you have my sincere condolences.

I first met Leonard when he started playing at Pacific Tennis. For awhile we were the undefeated Swedish doubles team, proof that Lutherans and Catholics can work together. Many thanks for bringing him to the Thursday post tennis coffee, where he will be sorely missed, especially by me.

Bob Swanstrom


August 20, 2013

Sharon, I am so sorry for your loss. Leonard will be missed by many, I will miss his enthusiasm and his humor. My condolences to you and your family. My prayers are with you.

August 20, 2013

Our prayers are with you now as they were this morning after your call while we were at the Augustana Heritage Assn. meeting.
Mary Monson and Pastor Dan Monson

Sandra Peterson Johnston

August 19, 2013

Dear Sharon, I'm so sorry for your loss. I have always been proud to have Leonard Sander as one of my distinguished cousins. I enjoyed our conversation when you and Leonard visited Swede Home a few years ago and at a "Peterson Cousins" reunion in Kansas City when we were all younger. I have many found memories of Leonard at family gatherings "back in the day." Leonard's passing will leave an empty place in our family.

August 18, 2013

Dear Sharon, Our prayers are with you and the wonderful family you and Leonard raised over the years. We are blessed to be among your friends. Love, IlaJean and Ron Kragthorpe