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Turning loss into hope

In front (from left to right), Conner and Gabrielle Rignell; in the back, Brian and Stephanie Rignell, and Judy, Lacey, Austin, and Mark Smith at The Refuge Golf Club.

A family creates a foundation to advance IPF research

Regular attendees of the St. Francis, Minn., Pioneer Days—complete with amusement park rides, a kids’ tractor pull, and fireworks—came to know the voice of Jim Smith, a parade emcee for many years.

In fact, Smith was well known for his community involvement, which extended far beyond his vocal talents.

One of the founders of a community bank, he also participated in the Blaine/Ham Lake Rotary and Lions clubs, was a member of the Anoka Area Chamber of Commerce, partnered with Independent School District 15, volunteered at his church, and coached youth sports teams.

Jim was diagnosed with a deadly chronic lung disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) in April 2008. After his diagnosis, Jim’s family sought the best treatment possible—choosing the University of Minnesota. But the disease progressed faster than expected, and Jim died just two months later.

Following his death, the community rallied around Smith’s wife, Judy, and children, Stephanie and Mark, and their efforts to do something special in his honor. “We decided to start a foundation to remember him,” says Judy, “and to continue his commitment to the community and to making a difference in people’s lives.”

Jim Smith.

A tie to the U

This fall, the Jim Smith Foundation is holding its fourth-annual golf tournament on September 13 at The Refuge Golf Club in Oak Grove, Minn. The proceeds of which will benefit pulmonary fibrosis research, education, and patient care at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Lung Science and Health.

“The University was always near and dear to my dad,” says Mark Smith, a U of M alumnus, adding that his father had fond memories of the University and loved to attend Gopher football games.

Additionally, he says, his father had planned to begin treatment for his IPF at the University.

“We turned to the University because we were aware of the great work being done there,” Judy says. “[The doctors] were so helpful at answering all of our questions and suggesting how to improve his quality of life.”

Adds Mark: “Our family’s first impression of the care there was absolutely phenomenal.”

Keeping it local

This year, the family’s foundation has become an official nonprofit, enabling all of the golf tourney’s proceeds to go directly to the University. Previously, the funds were sent to the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation in Chicago.

“We want to be sure to directly benefit what the University is doing and to keep it local,” Mark says.

Today, both he and his mother serve on the University’s Lung Advisory Committee, which supports the U’s search for a treatment and, ultimately, a cure for IPF and other lung conditions. They both have also made private gifts to support the University’s work.

“Supporting and spreading awareness of the outstanding pulmonary fibrosis research, education, and patient care at the University is one way we carry out our mission,” says Judy.

“We hope that one day a treatment will be found to improve the quality of life for IPF patients and that, ultimately, there will be a cure, so other families will not suffer the early loss of a loved one,” she adds. “We do this in Jim’s memory, knowing he would be proud.”

By Karin Miller

For more information about supporting IPF research, contact Amanda Storm Schuster at 612-626-2475 or

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