John Martin Smith never claimed objectivity when it came to local history.
I write from the heart, he wrote in the introduction to his 2002 book about Auburn. I strive to place the history of our town into the big picture of national history.
Smith, 72, and his wife, Barbara Bobbie, 71, died Wednesday night in a crash on Interstate 69 near Van Buren in Grant County.
The couples lives were deeply woven for decades in the civic fabric of Auburn, where residents Thursday processed the news.
According to the Indiana State Police, Smith was driving a Lincoln sedan south about 7 p.m. when he lost control for an unknown reason and spun into oncoming traffic. Both were wearing seat belts, police said, but the impact with a tractor-trailer rig broke their seats and they were ejected.
Don Grogg is executive director of the National Auto and Truck Museum, which opened in 1994 in the former factory buildings of the Auburn Automobile Co.
Smith co-founded the museum, as well as the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum and the DeKalb County Historical Society.
Bobbie Smith worked at the National Auto and Truck Museum for many years. Grogg called her warmhearted and family-oriented, with a perfectionistic bent characteristic of a former schoolteacher.
Grogg had spent most of Wednesday afternoon working with John Martin Smith at the museum, sorting through a donation of automotive books. It hasnt quite sunk in, Grogg said, that that was to be their last interaction.
He could tell you about things in this county no one else knew, Grogg said.
Smith began practicing law in Auburn in 1965 and still practiced with Thompson Smith, one of three sons. Their office sits across the street from the century-old library and near the librarys William H. Willennar Genealogy Center, which opened in 2002.
Over six decades, Smith accumulated a massive collection of antique postcards, books, maps, photos and other DeKalb County-related ephemera. The collection produced 17 books on local history, including a 1,500-page tome on the county.
Gregg Williamson, manager of the genealogy center, said Smith was generous in giving to the library because he wanted the collection preserved and enjoyed. Bobbie Smith supported her husband in his prolific collecting, Williamson said.
She loved her community as much as he did, he said. I think they shared a love for DeKalb County.
Burt Dickman, former Auburn mayor, was a businessman in the early 1970s when local car buffs wanted to display the citys historic cars during its annual Labor Day festival.
Dickman pushed for a temporary display in the city; Smith and other supporters wanted to acquire the former Auburn Automobile Co. administration building on South Wayne Street. Smiths group prevailed, and the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum was born.
We had parallel ideas, Dickman said. John had a lot more ambition.
Dickman last spoke to the couple during the citys car-related Labor Day festivities, when they participated in a road trip of historic Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg cars.
It was the Smiths 51st wedding anniversary, and they drove a 1919 Auburn that Dickman said didnt quite keep up with traffic.
He lived history, Dickman said. He got the oldest car he could find, and he put it on the road and drove it.