Toni Smith, 72, of Decorah, passed away unexpectedly Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018, in the intensive care unit at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minn.

She was preceded in death by her mother and father, Aaltje and Johannes van Boord.

She is survived by her husband of 43 years, Patrick Neil Smith; a sister, Corryette (Glen) Gasiorek of Arlington Heights, Ill.; two brothers, Johannes van Boord of Mitchellville; Adriaan (Jaque) van Boord of Altoona; six children: Colin (Valeria Kishkunas) Smith of Chatfield, Minn.; Devin (Jen) Smith of Minneapolis, Minn.; Lena Smith Parker of Hamden, Conn.; Nicholas (Kriste) Gill of North Haven, Conn.; Tyler (Jennifer) Smith of Randolph, N.Y.; Deborah (Benny) Lacks of Orlando, Fla.; 12 grandchildren: Adeline Teunisje Smith (Colin); Theodore, Willem, and Anna Parker (Lena); Miles and Emma Gill (Nicholas); Jordan, Alexis, and Kaitlynn Smith (Tyler); Peyton, Cameron, and Justin Lacks (Deborah); and two great-grandchildren, Landon and Zaiden Meidenbauer (Kaitlynn).

She was born Aug. 10, 1945, in Leersum, The Netherlands, the daughter of Aaltje Blankesteijn and Johannes van Boord. She immigrated to the United States in 1947, at two years old, on the steamboat S.S. Veendam. She spent her two weeks on the boat walking stem to stern, exploring every centimeter and befriending all of the passengers and crew with her beautiful smile and energy. The family first settled in Newton, where Johannes was a hired hand on a dairy farm. They were dreamers.

In short order, Toni’s siblings, Corryette, Johannes and Adriaan were added to the family. The siblings grew up together on the dairy farm, and it was hard work. But they were a family of hard workers, and they stayed close and made the dream happen. When Toni was five, she went to the local two-room schoolhouse. She still spoke no English, but she was so happy to be there, she sat in class with the children and beamed her smile at all of them. The first day, the teacher said she would have to have a new name, because no one could pronounce Teunisje. So the class suggested some options, and “Tina” and “Toni” were the finalists. Toni had no understanding of what was happening, but she loved every second. The class voted on the winning name. She came home that night and proudly announced to her family that she had an American name, “Toni.”

Toni’s mother could often be heard saying, “Where is she? Does she have her nose in that book again?” It meant her chores hadn’t been done, and she was off reading.

Toni used to babysit her younger siblings. They didn't have a television to entertain them, so she would rummage the cupboards and mix all sorts of food concoctions that did not turn out particularly well. She told her sister and brothers to eat the evidence, though, so their parents wouldn’t know what they had been up to.

Toni and her siblings were close-knit as adults, traveling together, talking multiple times a week, helping with each other’s burdens, and spending holidays together. Toni also stayed in close touch with all relatives in Holland throughout all of her years.

Toni’s family eventually purchased the much beloved Apple Grove Orchard, in Mitchellville, where they became a core local business for several decades, and Toni went on to college at the University of Iowa. She then worked for her Master of Arts in teaching from Depauw University in Greencastle, Ind. and then a Master of Education in community counseling from Ohio University. She was the first in her family to earn a college degree.

She married Patrick in Athens, Ohio, July 3, 1974, and they lived in the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. Her first job there was director of social services at Lakeside Nursing Home in Ithaca, N.Y. She then went on to be the executive director of Planned Parenthood of the Finger Lakes. In 1983, Patrick and Toni decided to buy The Wiley Inn in Peru, Vt., and ran a successful bed and breakfast for five years. They sold the inn and Toni then worked as the assistant town clerk of Peru, Vt., and president of the Flood Brook Elementary School Board during a critical time in that school’s development. Afterward she became international program director at Burr and Burton Seminary in Manchester, Vt. In 1999, Patrick and Toni moved to Decorah, and Toni worked as a grant writer for the Decorah Public Library, and then became executive director of the Spectrum Network until her retirement in 2011.

Over the years she had many adventures and experiences in every way imaginable. She took in exchange students and was central to every Peru town fair. She loved animals, and had many different pets, including chickens, dogs, cats, salamanders, bunnies, guppies, a hamster and a guinea pig. She raised several litters of AKC-registered Golden Retriever puppies, and painted their toenails with red nail polish to identify which was which. She loved Golden Retrievers especially – big square heads, light blonde fur, and gigantic goofy smiles.

Toni loved to travel, and instilled that love in her children, as she took them everywhere. She visited her family in Holland, but also traveled to Austria, Italy, Croatia, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, England and Mexico. She traveled Canada extensively, visiting nine out of the 10 provinces. When she was 70, she fulfilled a lifelong dream by trekking Annapurna, one of the Himalayas, with her daughter, granddaughter, and the 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking Company – a company empowering the women of Nepal. On her 72nd birthday, she ziplined on the world’s longest twin zipline in Canada. She traveled all of the continental United States (though we’re not sure about Alabama), by train, car and Roadtrek camper. Just before she died, she and Patrick sold their Roadtrek and purchased a new Bundutec camper, planning a cross-country trip to visit friends and see the Grand Canyon, where they would go white-water rafting, mule riding, and eat dinner in a cave 200 feet underground. She was also planning a family trip to Iceland, a summer trip to Canada, and a trip to Botswana, to name just a few of her future plans. Toni had a great love of Little Free Libraries and sought them out in every community she visited.

When she moved to Decorah, she quickly became a well-known figure, always in conversations, always working hard, always participating, helping, walking, smiling. She drove the first red Mini Cooper in Decorah. She volunteered at the Decorah Humane Society of Northeast Iowa and she sang with the Decorah Chorale, the Northern Lights and the Congregational Church Choir. She was very active in the Congregational Church activities, was on the United Way Board of Directors, and on the board of the Oneota Community Food Co-op. She enjoyed the Wednesday Lunch Group, the Investment Club and monthly neighborhood dinners.

Toni loved reading, cooking, walking, hiking, NPR, singing, dogs, cats, gardening, cross-country skiing, kayaking, traveling, canoeing and being with her family and friends. She loved reading and writing letters (and when she found her loved ones were texting, she learned to text and adopted it with vigor). At the end of every long, busy day, she loved sitting in front of the fire with a good book and a hot cup of tea.

She loved playing with her grandchildren, and always had a new project, recipe, song, book or event planned for them. She traveled with them, and made tie-dye t-shirts, cookies, dried apples and painted garden rocks. She talked to them about the land, about animals, about how things grow; she read to them. They picked green beans and dug up potatoes, built train tracks, marble mazes and Lego cities in the living room. She took them to the bookstore and bought as many books as they could carry. She gathered the family to do crosswords out loud together, and played Spoons, Apples to Apples, Monopoly, and Nibs. She made them an official laminated drivers’ license after they learned to drive the Kubota tractor on the farm.

She loved to cook. Meals were lovingly created and came with a story – the lettuce, broccoli and tomatoes were from the garden; the eggs were from local chickens; the venison was from a neighbor. Thanksgiving was always an unparalleled feast, filled with her new and old traditions and recipes, and the only thing she loved more than creating the food was sharing it with anyone who would come. Dietary restrictions were never restrictions; they were new, fun challenges. When she was thinking about food, she stopped what she was doing, focused intently out the window, and then raised her hand in a quick “Aha!” moment and was off to find the ingredients – in the basement, the freezer, the garden, the pantry or on the wall of spices she collected in blue Ball jars. Her standards were high and without exception, her mountain of cookbooks are filled with notes on every recipe – ”Good. Chewy;” “A little dry;” “Added cooking oil;” “Excellent!”

Toni was driven by adventure, compassion, generosity, kindness, thoughtfulness and inclusivity. She taught her children that it was most important to be other-centered, and filled their days with work, love and laughter. She made friends everywhere she went, utterly compelled to gather the stories of all the lives near her.

Most of all, she was driven to love. She loved each day she was a part of, each person she met, and each story she heard. She was irrepressibly optimistic, and looked for goodness in every moment, every interaction, every story, every soul.

Each morning, she got up, looked out the window, and said, “Well, it’s a beautiful day! What will you do on this beautiful day?”

And if it was raining, she marveled at the beauty and goodness of the rain.

Services are at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17, at Decorah Congregational United Church of Christ. Rev. Laura Arnold will officiate. Following the service, a gathering will be held in the Community Room for the sharing of stories, memories and fellowship. There is no visitation. Bring a story about Toni to tell others after the service in the community room. We will have hors d'oeuvres and tell each other our stories in Toni’s honor.

Toni loved flowers, but she loved the work of Doctors without Borders, and would love donations in her memory to that charity.