Gig Line: Grandpa Ken, Preacher Steve and Sarah

Published 6:41 am Thursday, April 15, 2021

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Veteran Kenneth L. Smith passed from this world into Heaven on July 23, 2020. His obituary recalled the great loves in his life – “his wife (and family), flying airplanes, performing music and his dogs.” At 10 years old, he acquired leftover wood to build model airplanes; he loved airplanes so much so that as a teenager, realizing he wanted to take flying lessons that cost $5 each, he got a job retrieving lost golf balls to pay for them. Later, he applied for pilot training with the U.S. Air Force. Because of his commitment and determination to fly, he was accepted into the Aviation Cadet Program. In 1954 he graduated from pilot training and was promoted to the honor of Second Lieutenant and married the love of his life and high school sweetheart, Verna Mae.

In addition to serving in Turkey and Thailand, he served 13 months in Vietnam flying 181 combat missions. Mr. Ken proudly served our nation through his 23 years with the Air Force and in celebrating his life, it was noted “he completed twenty-four ocean crossings with nine of them in a single seat plane. Each of those flights required in-flight refueling.” Following his Air Force retirement, he taught R.O.T.C. and throughout the rest of his life, he exemplified his belief in God, joy for life and the devotion he had for his wife of 66 years.

Like so many courageous veterans who have lived, loved our Lord, served our great country, and passed from this life into Heaven and eternal life, he inspired his children – one whom I know, Pastor Steve Smith, my “Preacher” of Manteo First Assembly (Manteo). Preacher Steve is dear to me (to my husband Billy also). In the fall of 2011, Billy and I approached Preacher about organizing a special tribute to veterans for the upcoming Veterans Day weekend. Without hesitation, he said “Yes!” and said we could move forward keeping him in the loop and offered to help us in any way he could, an immensely proud veteran’s son he has always been grateful to all the men and women who have sacrificed so much for you and me.

Get the latest headlines sent to you

That initial “Salute to Veterans” was the first of four annual programs that birthed an awareness of the dire need for veteran outreach in Dare County. Doing research for the first program made us realize we had a huge veteran population of 4,400 veterans right here living and working beside us. Obviously, we needed to find ways to thank and honor them, help whenever possible and refer them to the local official source of Veterans Administration (V.A.) help and connection – our local Veteran Service Officer.

The annual events offered music through various war eras; pride in our U.S. Flag; the hardships and heartbreak of war and the blessing of coming home after battle. We wrote plays, incorporated local veterans and non-veterans who acted, sung, played instruments, helped build incredible sets and let’s not forget the time Preacher Becky (Preacher’s beautiful wife) created and copied hundreds of program flyers, handout programs, prepared website announcements, etc. No matter what else was on her plate at the time, she came through for our veterans every single time.

At our veteran celebrations, every military branch was acknowledged; retired and active-duty service personnel were applauded and it was wonderful. Tears were shed amidst fond pats on the back; exchanges of “Welcome Home Brother” were spoken softly to each other and our older veterans especially loved our “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” re-enactments. Without question, the events that Pastor Steve and Becky Smith supported fully influenced a massive change for the good – helped grow our veteran awareness, encouraged more and more veteran activities for our veteran community and not only in Dare County but beyond and to fully express Billy’s and my appreciation. There are no words.

The following year, after we came to know that my Billy had stage IV glioblastoma brain cancer and the realization we could not participate in our beloved veteran program/play and because Billy had become unable to walk or even navigate safely into a wheelchair, our church thankfully went about creating a program in our absence. Billy was hospital bed-bound at that time unable to attend even in a wheelchair, so Preacher and Becky’s precious daughter, Sarah, came to our home and coordinated using media, her computer and the little flat screen TV over his bed to livestream the event so Billy could watch. She cared enough to want him to know he was well thought of; respected and missed at church. Her compassionate act of kindness for my dying husband touched him deeply; it meant enough that tears flowed freely even after the program had finished and she had left our home. Sarah let Billy know he was remembered, like we all have sworn we would always do – remember the sacrifice of our vets. Billy’s U.S. Army service in Vietnam during TET was not forgotten and sweet petite Sarah let him know that. She made him happy and proud that day and I will never forget it nor will our children, grandchildren and friends. God bless Sarah, her Mom and Dad and Granddad Ken. That brings me to a particularly important aspect of this Gig Line . . .

When Sarah was six years old in 2002, she was diagnosed with stage IV neuroblastoma. Following extensive treatments, hair loss and suffering, little Sarah got better – thank you Jesus! Later in 2006 there was another scare, but she got better again – praise the Lord!

In the last few weeks, Sarah happily accepted a marriage proposal from her absolute true love, Gage Long, and they set their wedding date for this May 22. Wedding plans were joyfully underway when another health crisis reared its ugly head and Sarah discovered a lump in her abdomen. Since that time, Sarah has endured several trips not only to The Outer Banks Hospital but a lengthy stay at Duke University Hospital where she is at this writing. (For frequent updates on Sarah’s condition, you can read Preacher Becky’s blog and in that detailed blog, you will read about the biopsy’s and medical procedures she has endured as well as an upcoming surgery all while anticipating the most beautiful day in her life – becoming Gage’s wife!

Gage has been at her side, praying for positive test outcomes, for a successful surgery not yet scheduled, treatment and to see her through to full recovery. Each of these incredible, faith based young people are so much in love but to get to the bottom of her significant blood platelets loss, etc., they have had to miss time from their jobs in Dare County and the expenses for the Smith family overall with travel, hotel rooms, food, gas, etc. are mounting daily. While the two different biopsy results are pending and her platelets have finally improved somewhat, she may be discharged from Duke until surgery is scheduled for the mass and further treatment is decided. Standing in the gap of time, her brother Nathan (whom Sarah loves very much) and his sweet wife Meagan who live in Florida are traveling to be at his beloved little sister’s side to love her, support her and pray for together with their family.

Allow me to cut to the chase folks – I am writing to invite you to help support the Smith family if you are able. No family wants to go through this ordeal; no parents or fiancé wants to see someone they love so much go through what Sarah has and I think it only stands to reason that if our veteran community stands up for Sarah, Gage, Preacher Steve and Becky, it will bless you even more than them. If you or your business would like to send a “love gift” to help relieve some of the expenses for Sarah and Gage’s time out of work, Duke travel/living, and medical, I, on their behalf and in advance, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Checks or money orders may be mailed to Manteo First Assembly, 812 Wingina Ave., Manteo, NC 27954 and Memo “Sarah” or visit, then scroll on down to the right until you see a picture of Sarah and Gage and Sarah Smith – Medical Treatment and Expenses and click on Donate now (GoFundMe).

Thank you all for taking the time to read this Gig Line, especially. You, your thoughts, your love of country and our veterans touch my heart every single day. If you wish to call me to offer any help for a potential fundraiser for Sarah in the near future, please call or text my cell 252-202-2058 or write to me at (my veteran email is finally back up to speed – thank the Lord).

If you’re a veteran or know of one who could use some help, please call me, or contact our awesome Veteran Service Officer, Patty O’Sullivan at 252-475-5604 or email her at at You can also find veteran info on our Dare County website at:

Until next time, please pray for Sarah, think about helping in some way if you can and be happy, safe and proud. I love you all and I pray God’s blessings on your life and on those you love. Even with all our nation’s heartaches, we – like sweet cream – still rise to the top! Stay tuned . . .