Wayne Smuck, Willow Springs' Hometown Photographer
Wed, 08/10/2022 - 4:44pm admin
Ira Wayne Smuck was born December 11, 1911, in Cabool, Missouri. His parents, Homer and Lily Roberts Smuck had an older son, Garland. The family had moved from extreme north Missouri with their two children a few years after Wayne's birth. A few years later, Lily Smuck died in Cabool in 1916. Wayne was just five years old, and his brother was nine. Homer and the boys remained in Texas County for a few years but moved to Willow Springs in the early 1920s. Garland passed away in 1924 when he was only seventeen.
Wayne and his father were alone, and Homer opened a photographic studio. An ad in the 1926 Willow Springs High School yearbook, "The Willamizzou," lists Homer D. Smuck as a "Resident Photographer." The 1932 through 1936 Willamizzou proudly states that "H.D. Smuck made all photographs in this annual." The photos are of superior quality. Homer Smuck used a big bellows view camera and developed the five-by-seven-inch sheet film and the resulting black and white prints himself.
Homer Smuck supplemented his studio business by publishing postcards sold in racks in businesses throughout southern Missouri. Wayne followed in his father's footsteps, and many iconic photographs of Willow Springs are attributed to him.
Wayne learned the photographic trade from his father and took over the studio business in Willow Springs just before Homer's death in 1938. The Smuck studio was located at 110 West Main Street, Willow Springs, the present home of Howell County News.
The Douglas County Herald published the notice of the marriage of Wayne Smuck and Alma Williams in February 1940. Both were twenty-nine years old, and the couple took up residence in the studio where they lived most of the remainder of their lives.
I have a bare-bottomed photo of myself taken by Wayne in 1952 and a ten-year series of images (with clothes) of myself, my parents, and my siblings. I recall going to the studio downtown, which featured a huge plate glass window angled to take in the daylight, and I distinctly remember some of the sessions. I was always mildly irritated when Smuck was so particular in arranging us kids for the photos. He had a chain attached to his camera with a metal fob on the end that he shoved under our chins to ensure the focus was perfect. By the time there were four of us to photograph, I'm sure he felt like he was herding cats and would firmly position and re-position us during the session. The photos are all quite good. The Smucks did not have children of their own, and I'm sure they got their fill of kids wrangling them in photo sessions.
In gleaning local newspapers, I found minimal mention of the Smuck family. I think Wayne preferred it that way. In November 1936, Wayne made the Springfield Leader and Press in a somewhat disingenuous article. It read, "Complications that developed in his right leg have retarded improvement in the condition of Wayne Smuck, 25-year-old Willow Springs man, who failed to heed the warning about driving with arms resting in car windows and suffered a shattered elbow three weeks ago. He is at Springfield Baptist Hospital. A truck sideswiped Smuck's arm - a misfortune that has befallen countless drivers in this section during the past two years. Warnings have been published time and again."
I recall Smuck later in life having a left arm that was less mobile than the other. It likely kept him out of World War II, though he did register for the draft.
Wayne died in December 1996 at the age of eighty-five. He and Alma had moved out of his studio home following his retirement into a residence at the north end of Willow Springs, but he did not live long after that. His wishes were carried out with a private graveside service and interment in the Cabool City Cemetery.
His legacy and that of his father are their work. Over the years, I've acquired many of the postcards Wayne and Homer published. A few years after Wayne's death, I purchased a collection of his negatives taken with his large-format Burke & James camera. It is a museum-quality collection of portraits and studio shots dating from the late 1930s through the 1960s. There are thousands of Willow Springs school photos, including sports teams and school activities. In addition, many portraits of our soldiers in uniform were taken before leaving home during World War II and the Korean War.
Wayne's studio camera now resides in the Willow Springs Historical and Genealogical Society museum. The metal focusing chain is not attached.
Alma Smuck died in 2000 at eighty-eight and, like her husband, was interred in the Cabool City Cemetery in a private ceremony. Their shared stone reads "Happy Trails to You."