Story by Susan DeGrane
After 42 years working at top accounting firms, Tony Smith, ’68, helped raise $3 million for the Miller College of Business, establishing a master’s degree in the accounting program named after his mentor, Paul W. Parkison, ’58 MA ’61. Smith, along with his wife, Marla, also donated $1 million and established two scholarship funds.
As significant a legacy, Smith has mentored fellow alumni with an approachability that breaks down barriers and builds relationships.
His desire to help dates back to his own experiences. The son of a funeral director in Columbia City, Indiana, Smith was vice president of his high school senior class and played varsity basketball, talents he took to Butler University on a basketball scholarship.
“Being a jock, I didn’t think I had to work hard to get passing grades,” he said. “By the end of the first semester, I was on academic probation.”
Smith lost his scholarship. Ball State, minus any scholarship, became his Plan B. But first, he had to bring up his grades.
Taking an accounting course, he found a new career path. But some sacrifices had to be made to get there — including staying off-campus in a sleeping room and washing dishes in a dorm cafeteria.
“I learned that if I was going to get an education, I had to focus on getting decent grades.”
Smith applied an approach learned from Paul Parkison, who told him: “When facing a challenge, break it down into small pieces and start chipping away.”
Working Summer construction to help him pay tuition, Smith graduated with a 3.4 GPA, no debt, and a full-time slot at Ernst & Young in Indianapolis. Then he was drafted into Army service during the Vietnam War as a clerk typist. Before going, he married Marla, who passed away in 2019.
Adventures plus service
Twenty months later, he returned to his new family — his daughter was born seven months before he first saw her — and resumed his career. He rose to become a partner at Ernst & Young, where he provided technical expertise for the professional practices group.
To mitigate risk for its global operations, Ernst & Young decided to utilize his expertise to establish a capital markets center in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Smith, then 60, approached the job with his usual zest for work and life — even orchestrating high-adventure motorcycle junkets across South American gravel roads.
“It doesn’t matter what you do for a living. You have to approach your work with passion, so you’re just as excited about going into work on Monday as you are on Thursday.”—Tony Smith
Retiring five years later, he continued his travels — including a trip to Norway near the Arctic Circle. He and Marla also motorcycled around America and even went snowmobiling in Siberia.
A past chair of the Ball State University Foundation Board, Smith is a generous donor — including sharing his rich life experiences with young alumni.
Tom Kinghorn, ’65 MA ’66, retired vice president and treasurer at Ball State, also commends Smith for referring mentees to other Cardinal alums for guidance. “With Tony, it’s all about helping,” he said.
Connor Ryan, ’13, a financial advisor for Merrill Lynch who majored in financial planning, says Smith’s guidance has been valuable. “In business, it’s often about ego, but Tony takes a different approach. He says it’s about kindness. It’s also about not burning any bridges.”
From Smith, Ryan also learned the give-and-take of relationship building. “I was happy to connect Tony with younger generations of alums for fundraising,” Ryan said. “It felt good to be able to help.”
“Tony has always been available to give support. In doing that, he’s changed lives,” Kinghorn said.