Oliver Smith Biography, Iowa Preacher - The Finished Course

The Finished Course

On the sixth of February in 1960, Oliver turned 77. He continued to maintain a busy schedule of preaching, teaching, and visiting. But as the days of winter waned and the warmth of spring drew near, Oliver's body began to weaken.

Traveling to Aredale in a blinding snow on the twenty-first of February, he struck a snowplow west of Allison and wrecked his car. Although his chest smashed against the steering wheel, he appeared to be unhurt. Noticeably shaken, he finished his trip to Aredale with the aid of a believer from Allison. Two days later he had a funeral with Paul Elliott at Stout. Two weeks later he announced gospel meetings in Hitesville.

Usually undaunted by such constant activity, he was now beginning to feel the strain in a marked way. As his rest came harder, his appetite diminished and his strength eluded him. He suspected that something more serious might be wrong. He was examined by doctors but nothing was discovered. With determination, he continued to press forward in his work for the Lord.

He remained at Hitesville throughout the first half of April. On the seventeenth, he attended an all day meeting at Manchester and a week later spoke with Eric McCullough in the gospel meeting at the Waterloo Conference. The next night, on the twenty-fourth, he preached at Stout with a brother named Harm Harms. Between times, he bought a new car, attended two funerals, and spoke at another. On the twenty-fifth he made time to bind hymn books for the Stout assembly and on the thirtieth, though not feeling well at all, he "mowed the whole lawn for the first time in 1960."

On Sunday, May 1, Oliver remembered the Lord in Aredale, little realizing that this would be his last time around the Lord's table. Two days later, he phoned Paul Elliott and asked to ride with him to a funeral in Webster City. Together, the ailing veteran and his son in the faith made the trip and preached together for a final time. Paul spoke at the service; Oliver spoke at the grave. As they separated that evening, Oliver told Paul he would likely see him the following weekend at the La Crosse, Wisconsin Conference, but it was not to be.

His strength diminished further the following day, and he was unable to attend the evening prayer meeting. On Lord's Day he could hardly walk. Opening his diary he wrote:

"Home all day, lying down most of day. Don't seem to be getting any stronger or better. But our Lord is good. Nice to be saved when one gets so uncertain as to what a day
may bring forth."

On Monday, Pearl and LaVelle helped Oliver struggle to the car and drove him to Schoitz Hospital, hoping to finally pin down the cause of his suffering. Recalling that day, LaVelle said, "I can remember him yet, getting into the back of the car, and throwing his hat down on the seat. That hat laid there for a long time because I could never quite move it. It was the last time he ever threw it down."

Although medical tests were inconclusive, Oliver's weight was slipping and his pain was growing more intense. On the thirteenth, Oliver penciled the final entry into his diary:

"Had a bad day. Quite a few visited... Doctors don't seem to be able to locate cause of pain and weakness. Trust the Lord will guide."

Three days later, at 6 p.m. the family assembled as doctors performed an emergency surgery. In half an hour it was over. The doctor entered the waiting room grimly, and in answer to Pearl's anxious inquiry, told them with tears in his eyes that cancer had penetrated Oliver's body and was therefore inoperable. The prognosis was three days to three weeks. Later, Oliver took Pearl's hand and said, "They found it didn't they? They found cancer."

Through the tears of her mother, LaVelle leaned forward and half whispered, "Yes Dad." He responded in comforting tones; "Its okay LaVelle, its okay."

A true soul winner to the end, Oliver, through weakness and acute pain, still sought to tell others of the Saviour. His doctor, a devout Roman Catholic, who had often made light of Oliver's preaching, was soberly warned again of eternal realities and the horror of leaving life without Christ. On his rounds one day, he heard the sweet refrain of "How Beautiful Heaven Must Be" floating from Oliver's room.

Gazing in, he saw Helene and LaVelle singing together at Oliver's bedside. Silently, he closed the door. Afterwards, in the hospital dining room as he sat with other doctors and staff, he was overheard to say, "I've seen everything now. A Mr. Smith is near death with cancer, and he's singing hymns with his daughters."

Years later, this doctor, in poor health and unable to walk, stopped by the home of Cliff and LaVelle. In a letter to them afterwards he wrote, "I wish I had the faith your father had."

Oliver's condition deteriorated rapidly. His wife and four daughters sat with him by turn, around the clock. He visited briefly with some of his fellow laborers, encouraging them to carry on for the Lord, and made some arrangements for his funeral: William Warke, Leonard DeBuhr, and Paul Elliott were to share in the preaching: six of his sons in the faith from six of the surrounding assemblies were chosen as his pall bearers.

On the last day of May, as his four daughters stood by, Oliver Smith peacefully breathed his last. His noble service for God came to a quick close, and he went home to be with his Lord. In the midst of his pain, he told a grandaughter who was leaving for the Stout Conference, "I'm going to a larger conference." And thus he had.

"At the smiling of the river, Mirror of the Saviour's Face, Saints who death will never sever Lift their songs of saving grace.
"Yes we'll gather at the river The beautiful, the beautiful river Gather with the saints at the river, That flows from the Throne of God."

The funeral, on June third at the Western Avenue Gospel Hall in Waterloo, had an estimated seven hundred present, including twelve full time servants of the Lord. William Warke was unable to attend due to sickness, so Leonard DeBuhr and Paul Elliott carried on alone. Preaching on the great subject of salvation, Leonard DeBuhr paused briefly to say of Oliver:

"I think that his whole life could be summed up in saying that it was given for others - the whole motive of it. He could have
been a wealthy farmer..but instead, he gave his life for the service of One who had hung on the cross for him... We can all say that he was faithful to us.

In a rural cemetery, close to where his journey began, Oliver Smith was laid to rest. As weeping saints surrounded the grave, Paul Elliott delivered a comforting message of hope from I Corinthians 15.