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Julius Smith, who played role in founding of Jonathan, dies at 88

September 15, 2018

As a lover of history, Jules Smith also was fascinated with the new, playing a key role in the founding of a first-of-its-kind community in the western Twin Cities.

Julius C. “Jules” Smith was born in Minneapolis in 1930 and died at his home in Chaska 88 years later, just before dinner on a Saturday night, from natural causes related to his heart. He loved exploring new places and reading about world history, but his home was always in Chaska.

Smith’s long careers as a private real estate attorney and a public servant in the south metro were matched, at least in tenure, by his abiding love and support for the Maryland Renaissance Festival. The Maryland RenFest near Crownsville, Md., will begin without him this year, but his role in its founding and 42 seasons of history will remain.

Smith was also deeply involved in the development of an experimental town in Carver County in the 1960s and ’70s called Jonathan, a first-of-its-kind federally subsidized pop-up exurb built on former farmland, for which Smith organized the purchase of every underlying parcel. Jonathan (which hosted the inaugural Minnesota Renaissance Festival in 1971) is a neighborhood association in Chaska today.

Smith’s interests in life extended deep underground, to the sewer pipes below everyone’s feet. His lifelong interest in the public-affairs aspects of sewer system construction spanned city and county planning roles starting in 1957 and eventually culminated in his serving 14 years as a representative to the Metropolitan Council regional board.

Writer Barry Casselman, who knew Smith from Jonathan, observed that Smith was drawn to humble but critically important issues while serving on public boards.

“It wasn’t glamorous or high-publicity work — it was the nuts-and-bolts work that created and maintained the sewers, roads, public transportation, and land planning which invisibly but vitally make American community daily life possible,” Casselman wrote in a Sept. 12 blog post titled “A Great American Life.”

Smith also harbored an admiration for the physical facilities themselves — the waste processing plants and gravity lines and lift stations, whose inner workings are hidden to most people. Smith loved to analyze how things worked. For the Smiths, family conversations seemed to always come back to sewers somehow.

“As family, we toured most of the major sewage plants,” said Smith’s son Jules, now president of the Maryland Renaissance Festival. “They are actually very interesting facilities inside, clean, and lots of machinery, lots of pumps, and pressurization systems. [They’re things] that people need. They don’t think about it until it’s a problem.”

Jules is one of seven children that Smith had with his wife, Mary Ann Dube, whom he married in 1957. She died in 1989, and Smith never remarried.

Family members said Smith was passionate about St. John’s Preparatory School in Collegeville, where he was an alumnus. He established and long supported a scholarship fund in his wife’s name, the Mary Dube Smith Scholarship Fund.

Daughter Ann McGlennen said Smith would have wanted to be remembered for the things he contributed to the communities he was a part of, and for his spirit of community building.

“He really believed in quality of life for all, regardless of your income level or where you lived, and really thought it was important to create great livable communities for everybody,” she said. “He understood the importance of good, strong infrastructure for the community.”

Smith is survived by six children and seven grandchildren. Mass will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. Victoria Catholic Church. Visitation is 5-8 p.m. Monday at Bertas Funeral Home in Chaska and an hour before the mass Tuesday.

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