Kay Varga Smith Obituary

Born 1/13/1938 to Pearl Austin (Bridges) and Volney Austin, Hartford, MI

She is survived by her adoring husband and partner of 29 years, Thomas Smith, along with her children; Tammi Phillippe, John Phillippe III, grandchildren; Janeva Rae Mammina, Cam Mammina, John Phillippe IV, Anna Phillippe; and two brothers. She was preceded in death by two husbands and her sister.

She succumbed to aggressive cancer discovered in October and passed away quietly on December 23, 2021, at her residence in St. Joseph, Michigan with her husband at her side.

A Celebration of Life Service will be held at 2:00 PM, Monday, January 10, 2022 at Starks & Menchinger Chapel, 2650 Niles Rd., St. Joseph, MI. Visitation will be held on Sunday from 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM. In Lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Lakeland Foundation, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, or Berrien County Cancer Service. Those wishing to leave an online condolence may do so at www.starksfamilyfh.com.

Kay hit a soaring hole-in-one in April golfing at her home course in Naples, Florida - a lifetime goal! She loved golf and could be found on the links a few times each week through the winter months. Kay had the most popular cart at the Strand as it was heated and filled with special "adult hot chocolate" lovingly made and packed by Tom.

Kay was passionate about her family and that love extended to her neighbors, friends, employees, communities, and strangers. She was known for her generosity of spirit and loved Christmas and everything about the holiday as evidenced by the overstuffed gift boxes for friends, family, and everyone at Thayer.

Kay’s commitment to Benton Harbor and St. Joseph was legendary; it’s been said (with a big smile of gratitude) that Kay never left a board meeting without getting contributions for upcoming events. She was as comfortable around CEOs as she was with newspaper carriers; that comfort resulted in her many successes in business, charity, and friendships.

In the '60s, Kay and her husband, Jack Phillippe, had a home-based business, Interlake Foundry Supply. She was a work-from-home mom, but she didn’t stay home much. She was a room mother, helped with Brownie and Girl Scout troops, a 4-H group, Cub Scouts, all in addition to keeping house and horse barn. She and her family bred running Quarter horses and half-Arabs. Kay could be found at the Quarter Horse race tracks summer afternoons cheering on her foals. Her love for animals extended to pet dogs, cats, and a myriad of squirrels. In one memorable era, Kay even had a skunk.

In 1979, Kay was widowed and left with the family business, Thayer, Incorporated. She was forced to broaden her legacy of stretching gender barriers as she took on the responsibility of running the company. Kay was active as president of Thayer, but also found time to participate on numerous boards and committees to strengthen the community. Success was, to Kay, far more than making money or earning awards, both of which she accomplished with grace. “Success is about relationships,” she often said. “It’s important to volunteer, to give back to the community. To help our neighbors and friends. I believe those are necessities.”

Kay was compassionate to the plights of others in many ways, freely giving gifts of time, money, shelter, clothing, and meals. She loved to cook and made extra amounts to deliver to people coping with hard times. The guest house at her St. Joseph home was frequently occupied by employees, friends, and family who needed temporary housing. She was one of those people who could find the person who needed her the most and made their day brighter.

She and Tom enjoyed traveling nationally and internationally, and found special joy in their random weekend trips when Tom would drive to the end of their driveway and say, “Right or left?” Tom and Kay spent every day of the past 29 years together on many, many adventures.

Oh, and about the driving…Kay raced cars at the Hartford Motor Speedway in her youth. According to son John, “She lost the ability to race, but that didn’t slow her down!”

Rest in peace, dear Kay, you loved well and you were loved beyond measure in return…

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