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Tom & Edie Smolinski

Educators, Volunteers, Chautauquans

As Edie says, "Tom and I have many commonalities." Edith Fiske and Thomas Smolinski both came from families of four children in small towns in New York. Edie grew up on a dairy farm in the town of Chautauqua and learned to throw hay bales into the loft. Tom grew up in the town of Solvay and helped his father build their house.
 
     
  Tom at 7 with his sister   Young Edie  

They both worked their way through college. They met at Oswego State Teachers College where Edie earned a degree in education/math, and Tom earned his in education/industrial arts. Just two weeks before he graduated, Tom asked Edie out for the first time, and they then went out every night that week. They married in 1962, and their four children were born in the following years.

 
Tom and Edie married in 1962.

Tom's first teaching job was at the State Agricultural and Industrial School for Delinquent Boys outside Rochester, N.Y., where he taught mechanical drawing and drafting. He recalls, "I chose this job partly because it was year-round and would give me year-round pay." Still in his 20s, Tom served in the Army Reserves for five years and earned a masters degree in guidance and counseling from Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y. He was promoted to principal of his school in the Buffalo suburbs when he was only 29.

In 1972 a professor recommended Tom for the job of planning, building and becoming the first principal of the Arlington Career Center. His tasks included hiring two assistant principals and the entire staff. At the time Arlington Public Schools were highly academic in focus. The Career Center was tasked to include courses in photography (taught by GHBC’s Paula Endo), heating and air conditioning, auto body, auto mechanics, electricity, electronics, carpentry, TV production, emergency medical training, practical nursing, animal science, commercial art, cosmetology, banking and finance, early childhood education, hotel management, Air Force ROTC, horticulture and masonry. Tom designed the Career Center to have demountable walls to keep room size flexible and to house a public library with a big technical section. It was the first public library in a public school in Virginia. 

"I always drank my morning coffee outside the main entrance and did face checks of the students as they entered to see if they were happy, sad or stressed," says Tom.

 
Tom's morning coffee

Although Tom originally said that he would stay at the Center for five years, he ended up staying for 27 years. He received the Washington Post Principal of the Year Award for Arlington County in 1998. Now with almost 50 years of history, the Career Center has been and continues to be one of the stars of the Arlington Public Schools.


Arlington Career Center

When Tom retired, his faculty presented him with this quilt of books. Book titles include Putting Old Goats Out to Pasture by the animal science teacher, We Fix Your Shorts by the electricity teacher and Wood Is Good by the carpentry teacher.


Tom's retirement quilt

Edie earned two masters degrees, one in social foundations and the other in guidance and counseling. After teaching math in middle school for a number of years, she worked as counselor and director of guidance and also as a consulting teacher, a job which allowed her to help math teachers needing assistance. She loved working with diverse students and staff and especially enjoyed working with the challenging kids.

She took her students to the Arlington Outdoor Lab in Broad Run, Va., where they hiked, cooked and learned about the outdoors. Many students had never been out of the county and had never slept outside before. "They were worried about snakes and other night creatures," she laughs, "and some asked to sleep in my tent." Edie has seen her students become teachers, a minister and a female assistant district attorney. The Smolinski Mathematics Award was set up by a student and her mother in appreciation for the student's education.


Edie teaching 

Team Smolinski was very active in its community. They volunteered for and were sometimes president of the Kiwanis Club of South Arlington, the League of Women Voters, the Falls Church Democratic Committee, Citizens for a Better City, the Arlington Community Foundation Scholarship Committee and the Falls Church Education Foundation. At the Falls Church Episcopal Church, Tom chaired the Falls Church Episcopal Endowment Fund and Edie served on the vestry. Tom and Edie have always believed in giving, and they helped sponsor a Kurdish refugee family from Baghdad for three years through their church.


Edie and the Citizens for a Better City car

When their four children were growing up, the family camped in a VW camper bus and later bought a motor home and traveled across the country. They had a house on Virginia’s Lake Caroline where they boated, fished, and water skied.

     
  Edie, Tom and their children   The Smolinski camper bus  

 

Edie and Tom both retired on the same day. In their retirement they have traveled to England, Scotland, Wales, France, Italy, Germany, Australia and New Zealand and later cruised Dutch waterways. They spend summers at Chautauqua Institution where Edie taught mah jongg for ten years. They belong to the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Society Book Club of 2009. Tom was president of the St. Elmo Condo where they own a unit, and according to one of the residents, "Tom restored civility to the condo."

     
  Tom and Edie on Lake Chautauqua   St. Elmo Condo at Chatauqua  

 

"But best," they say, "is having our four children and most of the grandchildren living in this area."  They have seven grandchildren "who are the apples of our eyes."  When this reporter comments that they are lucky to have their children all living so close to them, Tom replies, "They are lucky!"  Edie adds, "Our family laughs a lot, and we Face Time, Zoom or chat every week."

     
  Tom and Edie's seven grandchildren   Ava, the youngest grandchild (now 16)  

 

They moved to Goodwin House from the city of Falls Church in 2016. At Goodwin House they have served on the Resident Council (Edie), delivered clothing to Goodwill, wheeled residents to activities and helped with the Holiday Bazaar, Make a Difference Day, the Angel Tree and the Green Team. 

According to Edie, "Once at a conference we were each asked who had been the greatest influence in our life. Without knowing how the other would answer, each of us named the other." 

They are well known at Goodwin House for their electric train set, which they set up every Christmas in the third floor lounge in the Pointe. Tom has had the set since he was a child and has added to it over the years (ice skating rink, a town, townspeople). "Tom gave me my engagement ring as we sat by this train set," Edie reminisces. Pre-covid-19, Tom and his son would spend days setting it up, and it attracted all the grandchildren who happened by. The picture below was taken during the pandemic when the full train set and town could not be set up.

 
Edie with part of the train set

Tom and Edie continue to thrive at Goodwin House and Goodwin House has benefited by their presence. "We love it here!" they agree.

 

By Jane Roningen

 



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