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How Two Wooden Ducks Seeded Life-Changing Scholarships: The Story of the John B. and Marion A. Smitheman Fund

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Edward “Ned” Smitheman was a quiet man who left a remarkable legacy, thanks in large part to two wooden ducks.

Ned Smitheman
Ned Smitheman

An only child, a longtime resident of Dover, and a lifelong bachelor and engineer for the U.S. Army, Smitheman loved to help others. And he has done so countless times, even after his passing 17 years ago.

Born in Haddonfield, New Jersey, Smitheman graduated from the University of Delaware with an engineering degree in 1938 before entering the U.S. Army, where he served gallantly during World War II and the Korean War. An electrical engineer, Smitheman stayed in the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers until he retired in 1969.

One day, sometime around 1993, Smitheman was clearing his attic of things he inherited after the death of his parents, John and Marion Smitheman.

He came upon two rare wooden decoy ducks carved by the artist Ira Hudson. He knew he had something special on his hands.

The decoys sold at auction for a total of $90,750.

Smitheman decided to use that money to open an endowed scholarship fund in his parents’ names at the Delaware Community Foundation. The John B. and Marion A. Smitheman Scholarship Fund, which also received proceeds from Smitheman’s estate when he passed in 2001, helps Kent County high school students who want to study engineering.

Now at $1.9 million, the Smitheman Fund has awarded over $130,000 to 52 students since 1994.

Smitheman had no heirs, and his will was executed by his dear friend and neighbor Betty Stevens, who delights in the knowledge that Ned’s generosity will continue in perpetuity.

“He would be so pleased that the DCF has managed his gift so well and that many students are able to fulfill their engineering dreams,” she said. “It is a legacy to him, and I’m certain his parents would be proud.”