Bennie Smith was born on July 18, 1948, on a rural farm in Faceville, Georgia, son of Earlie and Lera Smith, and the youngest of six children. He attended a four-room schoolhouse until the eighth grade and a high school with sub-standard facilities. To assist in supporting his family, he worked a full-time job his junior and senior years of high school. He was the driver for the local African American funeral home. Early in life, he knew he wanted to own a business, but it wasn't until he worked for the funeral home that he decided that he would one day own and operate a funeral home business.
Knowing that his parents could not afford his tuition to college, he joined the Armed Forces, and, after being Honorably Discharged, he matriculated at the John A. Gupton School of Mortuary Science in Nashville, Tennessee in 1969. He was a full-time student and worked full-time as well until his graduation in 1971. After graduating, he enrolled at the University of Minnesota and a year later he received his Bachelor of Science degree, which is the highest degree offered in this profession. Again, he was a full-time student working a full-time job. Earning this Bachelor of Science degree enabled him to be licensed to operate in any state without restrictions.
His first full-time position as a Mortician was for one year at Hawkins Funeral Home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from 1972 to 1973. In 1973, he moved to Dover, Delaware and worked for the Reese Funeral Home. While working for Reese Funeral Home, he enrolled at the University of Delaware and earned a Master's Degree in Counseling in 1978. It was in the late seventies that he decided that it was time for him to step up and seek his teenage dream of owning his own funeral home.
In 1982, he became Chairman and CEO of the Bennie Smith Funeral Homes, establishing direct start-up of 14 funeral homes in the tri-states of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. In the state of Delaware: the cities of Dover, Seaford, Milford, and Millsboro. In the state of Maryland: the cities of Princess Anne, Pocomoke, Salisbury, Hurlock, Cambridge, Easton, Chestertown, and Baltimore. And in the state of Virginia: the cities of New Church and Exmore. This grand accomplishment was the first of any African American Funeral Director in the United States. To date, 12 of those establishments are still in operation, with the main headquarters in Dover, Delaware. Currently, he is the owner of one of the largest African American owned operated funeral homes in the United States. He is licensed to practice funeral services in the states of Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and New York. He has over 75 employees and contractors.
That same year of 1982, Mr. Smith became the first contractor to secure a contract with Dover Air Force Base, who had not owned a funeral home and without a strong financial base. With God's help and his strong desire to succeed, he held this contractual agreement for 14 years after which the military took over the operation. As the sole contractor, he was responsible for embalming, restorative art, dressing of remains and shipment of active duty members and their families from all branches of the military service to Europe, Southwest Asia, the Azures, Iceland, and Greenland. During his contractual years he processed over 3,000 remains. Some of the national and international news making events included in 1982, the Navy C-130 crash of 11 remains. In 1983, the bombing in Beruit, Lebanon 237 remains and in Grenada 14 remains. In 1984, Beirut singles 9 remains and Spain Air C-130 crash 9 remains. In 1985, Newfoundland and Gander plane crash 248 remains. In 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger 7 remains. In 1987, USS Stark 33 remains. In 1988, PanAm 103, 25 remains. In 1990, USS Iwo Jima 10 remains and USS Saratoga 20 remains. In 1991, Desert Sheild/Storm 310 remains. In 1992, C-130 Mishap, Kenya 7 remains and C-130 Montana Air Crash 5 remains. In 1993, Somalia 23 remains. In 1994, Iraq helicopter incident 15 remains. In 1995, Saudi Arabia bombing 5 remains and in 1996, Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown and his plane crew.
He has invested his time and energy in other businesses as well. He was the owner of the largest African American-owned fleet of school buses on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Delaware, operating 35 buses for the Capitol and Smyrna School Districts. He is the past owner of the Ebony Restaurant and Lounge in Dover, Delaware. He is a Real Estate investor with extensive property holdings. He offers limousine services to the public and owns three florists.
For his outstanding service to the citizens of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, he has been the recipient of numerous awards and citations. Just to name a few, Outstanding Achievement of Business Enterprise by the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Honor for Outstanding Service and Contribution to the African Methodist Episcopal Churches, Recognized by the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus for Outstanding Service to Maryland communities, Bigger & Best Business Award from the Delta Gamma Sigma chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., Exemplary Business Man award from the Beta Epsilon chapter of Iota Phi Lambda Sorority, Inc., Small Business Person of the Year nominee by the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, Governor's Citation for Outstanding Service to the State of Maryland, recognized by Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. for Outstanding Achievement in the First State, and Delaware Minority Business Person of the Year.
In 2003, he established a scholarship program for high school seniors from the states of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia who are planning to further their education at schools of higher learning.
From humble beginnings, Bennie Smith, from a rural farm in Faceville, Georgia, has evolved into a successful and caring businessman setting the standards for funeral homes across this country.