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Community honors fallen firefighter at halftime ceremony in regular season finale

PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - St. Paul High School retired the football jersey of Austin Smith, a member of the 2009 state championship team that died fighting a structure fire in February.

In the long, storied history of St. Paul High School, the Buckaroos had never retired an athletic jersey from play until Friday night.

Of all the student athletes who have walked through the halls and suited up, it seemed fitting that Austin Garrett Smith would be the first.

St. Paul High School enshrined Smith's No. 77 jersey at halftime of the football team's regular season finale against visiting Perrydale, honoring the beloved community member, state champion and volunteer firefighter who died in February from injuries suffered while fighting a burning poultry barn near Champoeg.

"Austin was sixth generation St. Paul and he embodied everything that is great about our town," said Claude Smith, the Buckaroos' on-field announcer who led the halftime ceremony. "He was devoted to his family and friends. He was hardworking, funny and kind. He will always be remembered for his humor and his ability to make you feel like you were an important person in his life."

A four sport athlete, Austin was a principle member of the Bucks' 2009 state champion football team and a freshman when head coach Tony Smith took over the program in 2006. Tony's oldest son grew up with Austin and was in the same graduating class as Austin's younger brother Zach.

"I lived in St. Paul since the time those kids were little kids, and those guys were all good friends," Tony Smith said. "I spent a lot of time with Austin ... I coached them third, fourth, fifth, sixth grade in parks and rec basketball."

Tony Smith has coached in five state championship games in his 15 years at the helm of the football program, but his first title in Austin's senior year stands out as one that set the table for the program's success during his tenure.

"When you do things a certain way and have success doing them, then those classes that come after them know this is how hard you have to work, these are the things you have to do to be successful," the coach said. "Once you win a championship, all the guys that were in the school then, you hope to keep that continuing and not have huge dropoffs so they can all be linked to a part."

Austin Smith was an all-state lineman and three-year starter with the team. Tony Smith echoed Claude Smith's sentiments, remembering Austin Smith's gregarious demeanor that persisted long after he graduated in 2010.

"I think the things that endeared him to the community is that he was the same person in high school," Tony Smith said. "Multiple clubs, club officers, involved in sports. Typical, what you saw afterwards, where he did the same thing in the community. It was similar in high school, student leader well liked."

Austin Smith was president of both the volunteer fire department and St. Paul Jaycees, giving back to the community with family roots that run deep in Marion County. The Smith's trace their lineage to Cavan County Ireland via Francis Smith, who immigrated to the United States in 1858.

"He got drafted to the Civil War, didn't want to serve, paid a guy to serve for him, which was legal back then," said Tony Smith, who was a history teacher for 18 years and a St. Paul historian.

Francis Smith traveled from Iowa, down the Mississippi River, across the Gulf of Mexico to the Isthmus of Panama and up to San Francisco, where he spent a year before traveling north to Corvallis and eventually settling in St. Paul.

"He had a large family, Francis did, I want to say eight to 10 kids. But our grandpa. I guess my great grandpa, was real successful farming the area," Tony Smith said. "Accumulated a lot of property, served as a Marion County commissioner for several years. He had four sons and when he passed away, they ended up with his farm."

Austin Smith's family received a portion of the land and have farmed it for six generations as B&D Farms, where they grow hops and have thrice been awarded the Cascade Cup in 2016, 2019 and 2022 as the top hop farm in the Cascade region.

The family's investment in the hops industry naturally led Austin Smith to begin brewing beer as a hobby and eventually founding the Harvester Taproom, which posthumously opened on Main Street this year.

Austin Smith's impact on the community, his friends and family, will continue to echo through the halls of St. Paul High School, where his jersey will be displayed in the commons.

"A lot of people say things like 'nobody said a bad word about him' and it's unequivocally, absolutely true," Tony Smith said. "He represents everything that's good about our town."

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