Amherst Magazine
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A. NICOL "NICK" SMITH (1936-2007)

Somewhat unusual for members of our class, Nick Smith’s plan on coming to Amherst was to stay only two years and then go on to law school on a “two/four” plan. After his sophomore year, he returned to his native Minnesota and the University of Minnesota Law School, from which he received a BSL in 1958 and a JD in 1960.

At Amherst, Nick pledged Phi Psi along with Jamie Slade, with whom he roomed briefly sophomore year. Nick then married Lane Fryberger, a Smith student, and moved off campus. Jamie kept up with Nick over the years. He describes him as a “great guy who became what every Amherst man would aspire to.”

In 1959 Nick started as an intern with the law firm of Fryberger, Buchanan, Smith & Frederick, in which his father-in-law, Herschel B. Fryberger Jr., was a partner. Nick remained with the firm, eventually becoming chairman and practiced business law until his retirement in 1999.

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Nick receiving award for
civic involvement, 1999

He became far more than a lawyer. He was especially interested in starting new businesses and seeing them grow. He founded Northeast Ventures, a venture development effort for northeastern Minnesota, in 1989 and served as chairman and CEO for its two arms, Northeast Venture Development Fund and Northeast Entrepreneur Fund Inc. (NEF). The non-profit NEF provides business training and technical assistance to economically disadvantaged men and women who wish to start or expand small businesses.

Recognized nationally, it received the 1999 Presidential Microenterprise Award for Excellence in Developing Entrepreneurial Skills. This award was part of the Federal Government’s effort “to advance the role of microenterprise in expanding economic opportunities for all Americans, especially low-income workers, women and minorities, who often lack access to traditional sources of credit.”

Northeast Ventures was the subject of a case study at Harvard Business School and a model for efforts in other parts of the country. The obituary that appeared in the Duluth News Tribune quoted Mary Mathews, president of NEF in Virginia, “It helped break a lot of ground for what people learned around the country.”

Nick was named businessperson of the year in 1990 by the School of Business and Economics at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and was a recipient in 1992 of the Minnesota Financial Services Advocate Award from the U.S. Small Business Administration. He served on numerous boards and advisory boards.

Nick was regarded as a visionary in the area of socially-responsible entrepreneurship. Greg Sandbulte, former president of Northeast Ventures, said, “He saw opportunities that no one else saw and pursued them when others believed they were impossible. Because of that vision and that perseverance, he accomplished a great deal. He was as focused on helping other people as anyone I have personally ever known.”

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In front of the Great Lakes Aquarium, which Nick started.

Jamie Slade reports that one of Nick’s other major accomplishments was helping to create the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth. Nick himself regarded his single greatest achievement to be his 27 years as an active member of AA. His obituary said that his valued legacy is the love, support, and friendship that he gave and found there. His wife, Lane, remembers that almost all the notes and calls received after his death mentioned, “He was always smiling.” Jamie Slade’s words seem to have been well chosen.

Nick is survived by his wife of 52 years, their daughters Lane, Elizabeth Seeler, Amy Horita, and Caroline Salemi, his brother Ronald, six grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

Alfred Nicol Smith died in Duluth of cancer, Sept. 23, 2007, after a long illness.

(Ed. Note: On learning of Nick's death, the oldest son of this editor informed his father that Nick had been the inspiration for Ben Powell's applying the Northeast Ventures model of socially responsible investment and training to the developing  world. Small world!)

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Nick’s last public appearance, Feb. 10, 2007, at
daughter Caroline’s wedding, with wife Lane and rest of family
President Clinton presenting 1999 Microenterprise Award to Mary Mathews, president of NEF, the not-forprofit organization Nick founded.
 

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