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Tracee Smoak works with nonprofit group named after her husband


Published:   |   Updated: December 30, 2013 at 08:50 AM

A sign with the words "live, laugh, love" hangs prominently in the living room of the house on Lake June Tracee Smoak shares with three dogs and her children, Gabe, Landon and Ellie.

"I'm a firm believer that we have to choose to be happy and positive in how we think. Life is going to have mishaps; life is going to have tragedies. We have definitely had one in our life," said Smoak of the 2008 plane crash that took her husband's life. "But it doesn't mean life ends there."

Mason's death was the catalyst for his family's creation of the Mason G. Smoak Foundation, a nonprofit, faith-based organization that promotes education, opportunities for leadership and environmental stewardship.

"In the beginning, I was involved in every aspect, and I was president of the board for a couple years. As it grew, we eventually hired an executive director, Micah Scanga," Smoak said. "He is a go-getter and jumps right in. He is an asset to the community."

While Smoak continues to serve on the foundation's board, her main focus has become the Youth Leadership Highlands Program, which honors Mason's commitment to civic leadership, family and his love of the Lord by providing hardworking, community-minded high school students with training sessions, outings and scholarships.

"We are looking for young people that want to be involved, those with a willing heart," Smoak said during a 2011 interview.

This year, the foundation has amped up its MGSF scholarship program, providing $4,000 to each of five "outstanding young achievers": Kassie Canevari, from Lake Placid; Juliette Perez, from Sebring; Karina Casillas-Cruz, from Avon Park; Adna Metayer, from Wauchula; and Aubrey Womack, from Arcadia.

"As long as they are staying in school, they will get $1,000 (per year) for four years," Smoak explained.

Smoak would like to see the scholarship program, which is funded by community support and the foundation's Leadership Circle of Giving, expand throughout Florida's heartland, into surrounding counties.

The foundation's main community event is the annual Mason G. Smoak 5K Race and Family Fun Day, held this year Sept. 28 in DeVane Park.

"It did phenomenal, Smoak said. "We had a huge number of runners. It was a great mix of competitive runs and healthy family activity.

"The sponsorships were phenomenal. We get so excited about the support from the community."

A University of Florida graduate with a master's in early childhood and special education, Smoak said she prays each day that God will allow her to impact people's lives in a positive way.

Co-owner of The Blueberry Patch Gift Shop, at 124 E. Interlake Blvd., Smoak spends three days a week at the Lake Placid boutique, a job that allows her the flexibility to do some work from home, take care of her duties with the foundation and still have time for the kids' sports and school events.

"We took it over about five years ago," said Tracee's business partner, Kym Smoak. The two also share the business with their cousin, Samantha Price.

"We all have different gifts, and we work well together," Kym Smoak said. "Tracee has great taste. She is a loving mom, faithful, sweet and kind."

It is that kind and gentle demeanor that is evident when Tracee Smoak describes the holiday traditions that hold special significance to her and her children - lunch at the Wild Turkey Tavern on Christmas Eve; baking cakes and singing happy birthday to Jesus to remember the true meaning of the season; breakfast cooked by her parents, David and Beth Plank; time with her sister, Laurie Howerton, and her daughter, Caylee; and dinners with her husband's parents, Edward and Anne Smoak.

"We are so thankful for family. We wouldn't get through without them," she said. "We miss Mason like crazy, especially this time of the year. (But) we focus on the gift he was in our life. It's a gift that keeps giving. He still has a great impact on our lives every day."

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