Gene “Geno” Smith

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Gene Allen Smith, affectionately known as Geno, was born in Imperial on Dec. 25, 1931 to Leslie Earl Smith Sr. and Gladys Beulah (Comer) Smith. He was the middle son between his older brother, Stan and younger brother, Les. Geno was the risk-taker, the traveler, and the “James Dean-type bad boy.” He grew up in Imperial and following high school joined the United States Air Force in 1952. He was stationed on a small island (that was impossible to pronounce) northwest of Seoul, Korea as a radar tech, or cope-dope as he called it, monitoring aircraft in and around the region. On coming home from Korea he finished out his service on Mount Tamalpais in California in 1956. Geno was a patriot, a veteran, and a proud American.

After Korea, Geno returned to Nebraska to farm with his dad and brothers. He, Stan and Les would ride the 20 miles to the farm together nearly every morning and a good many business decisions were made at this time. Geno served on the Ne-Co Beet Board as a director for 13 years and loved farming. 

Not only did he share pickup rides with his brothers, but also a knack for mechanics, a bit of a hot temper and the ability to cry. Later in life, Geno and his brothers maintained their close relationship through a ritual of weekly breakfasts downtown and when those became too difficult, regular phone calls. 

He met Nelba Flippin in Denver, Colorado, and then persuaded her that Nebraska was the place to be and brought her back to be a farmer’s wife. Although they could not have children, Geno was a favorite uncle. He opened his home and heart to his nieces and nephews, great nieces and nephews and the children and grandchildren of others so important to him. 

Though unable to attend any of the athletic games of the young individuals in his life, he was so very proud of each of their accomplishments. 

Family contact and gatherings were meaningful to him, as were the many friends he had in Imperial and elsewhere. Geno had the luxury at times in his life to travel and met a variety of people, including Johnny Cash before he became a star and he was a lifelong fan since then. 

He enjoyed the warmth and beauty of both Arizona and California and made lifelong friends wherever he went.

Over the years, he was an active member of the Imperial VFW, Fraternal Order of the Eagles Aerie 3472, Imperial ABATE, and the American Legion of Colorado Post 1992. 

He never had much time for hobbies but when he did he dabbled a bit in painting pictures of airplanes, and making airplanes out of metal. He had a thing for cannons and was well known for making his own and shooting them off during the 4th of July holiday. 

After he and his brothers sold their farm, GLS Enterprises, he opened a tire shop naming it after his favorite symbol and hobby, Cannon Tires. He also developed a “no-shake” popcorn popper which he had manufactured and sold for several years. Geno later applied his history as a farmer to a career in crop adjusting and real estate finding comfort and ease having contact with farmers and in taking in the land around him. He did this until he turned 80 years of age and poor health forced his retirement. 

Never happy to sit idle, the next six years were spent traveling the western United States until health issues interfered.

Gene passed away early Wednesday morning, Feb. 5, 2020 at his home in Imperial. He was 88 years of age.

Gene is preceded in death by his wife, Nelba, his parents Leslie Smith Sr. and Gladys Smith, brother Leslie Smith Jr., and nephew Leslie Smith III.

Survivors include his longtime companion Cathy Rowley and her family, his brother Stan Smith, sister-in-law Sue Smith, nephew, Clyde (Lanette) Smith, and nieces Jane (Darrel) Norris, Melinda (Kass) Gray and Felicia (Randy) Fair. Five great nephews and five great nieces, as well as great-great nieces and nephews.

Funeral services were at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020 at the First United Methodist Church in Imperial with Pastors Kent Griffen and Melody Newman officiating. 

Interment will follow services in Mount Hope Cemetery, Imperial with full military honors.

Visitation was Monday, Feb. 10, 2020 from 2-6 p.m. at the funeral home in Imperial.

In lieu of flowers a memorial has been established to the Imperial FFA Chapter to help share Gene’s love for agriculture with future generations.

Online condolences may be left at

Liewer Funeral Home is entrusted with arrangements.


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