Janie Smith: The Heart and Soul of the Family and Business
By Claudia Johnson
Love takes people on unexpected paths, and that’s certainly true for Janie Pennington Smith. Back in 1972 when she was a social worker, Janie’s life changed forever merely because she crossed the street at the exact moment a handsome, young entrepreneur named Doug Smith was driving through Celina. She was on the way to grab lunch at the local drugstore, oblivious to the fact that Doug thought she was attractive and immediately made his mind up to find out who she was.
Six years her senior, Doug had started a broom handle manufacturing company in 1968 at Moss, but that was soon converted to a milling operation, which was finally beginning to gain some financial traction. Never one to miss an opportunity, Doug tracked down the mystery woman’s identity.
Later Janie learned that she had been suggested to him – to no avail – some time earlier by family friends as a possible match.
“I liked him, and he liked me,” Janie said of their eventual meeting.
The pair started dating, and within six months, he proposed.
“We were at my parents’ house watching TV when he asked me to marry him,” Janie remembers. “When you love someone, you say ‘yes.’”
Janie had dreamed of a June wedding, but Doug was eager to make her his wife. He chose March 31, 1973, as the wedding date, and Janie was happy to have a spring wedding instead. She soon quit her job and joined Doug at the milling operation.
“He wanted me to do all the paperwork so he could concentrate on the business,” Janie said. “Back then we didn’t have computers or even calculators! Even today I sometimes catch myself adding in my head.”
Janie worked from a small block building at Moss that had once been a “beer joint,” infamous because a murder happened there some years before Doug acquired the property. In addition to accounting, Janie scheduled production for Pallet Pro, prepared all the reports and handled payroll.
“I even went with him to help grade logs,” Janie said. “There were all these little dots that represented a foot, so that took a little time. We were together a lot, and we ate lunch together almost every day. That was special.”
In November 1974 the Smiths first child, Shane, was born, and two years later they completed their dream home, a square log house that ignited the idea to establish Honest Abe Log Homes in 1979.
“We struggled for several years before making any money,” Janie said. “It was 1980 before we were actually in the black.”
That year should have been one of celebration, but Janie was involved in a devastating traffic accident on April 22, 1980, that hospitalized her for months and kept Doug by her side much of the time. Janie believes the birth of daughter April in August 1987 is nothing short of a miracle due to the extent of her skeletal and internal injuries. When Janie was well enough, she returned to her company duties and to Doug’s side in their growing businesses.
“I’ve never worked with anyone who worked so hard,” Janie says of Doug. “He had a good head for business. One of his main goals was to be able to give people jobs, which is still my family’s goal.”
In time Doug and Janie would come to own some 20 businesses cumulatively directly employing more than 1,000 and indirectly impacting the local economy to the tune of billions of dollars. Some of the businesses were consolidated with others, some they sold over the years and some they closed completely in an effort to strengthen their core operations headquartered at Moss. The currently operating businesses include Honest Abe, Barky Beaver, Moss Sawmills, GF Hardwoods, Southern Timbercraft, Green Forest Products and Happy Trucking.
“I always went along with him,” Janie said of her energetic husband. “He was so creative and always seemed to know the right decision to make. I ask myself every day when making a decision, ‘Is this what Doug would have done?’”
Janie’s grief at the loss of her husband to cancer on Sept. 8, 2011, is palpable.
“I lost my soul mate and best friend,” she said, eyes brimming with tears. “April and Shane were such a comfort, and when Nick [Patterson, April’s husband] came along it was just a blessing,”
Janie said she relies heavily on her family in operation of the business.
“It’s so hard running the companies without Doug,” she said. “I could not run any of these companies without the help of my family, who are all amazing.”
Shane works primarily with the sawmills, lumber company and timber acquisition, while April is responsible for Honest Abe. Nick handles Barky Beaver, and both Shane and Nick undertake massive farming operations in Tennessee and Kentucky.
“They’re good at what they do and don’t need much supervising,” Janie said. “Even though I work hard, without them the companies would not be the success they are today. I attribute the success of the companies to them.”
A humble and unassuming person, Janie has carried forth the legacy left by her husband of charitable giving through the company with organizations that support veterans and children being the primary focus. However, she believes that there is much that can be addressed quietly and personally by helping others with their immediate needs.
“After Doug died, people would come up to me and tell me about how generous he was,” she said. “He helped people during bad times…when they were sick. We both agreed that we should help others when we could. We have really been blessed, and I don’t have to have a big house or the finest car to drive.”
Janie still lives in the modest log home she and Doug built so many years ago in rural Clay County, which is just up the road from Shane and wife Lesley and directly across from April and Nick. The family also made many memories in their Gatlinburg log cabin, a vacation getaway and favorite holiday retreat destroyed by the forest fires that ravaged Gatlinburg in November 2016.
Outside work, Janie’s life revolves around her family, and at any given time she can be found shuttling one of her four grandchildren, Isaac, Eli, Andrew and Lily, to a practice, play or game. She zips among the houses on a golf cart and is game for a shopping expedition if the opportunity presents itself. She approaches the decorating of a cake for a loved one with the same precision as tallying a column of numbers for a multimillion-dollar corporation.
“I miss Doug every day, but I stay really busy working, which helps,” Janie said. “My family always supports me, and I love them so very much. I know Doug would be proud of us all.”