Isabell Smith, stylish, devoted mom who was a nylons model, has died at 92
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Isabell Smith never left the house without looking stylish.
During high school — a time when many just want to fit in — she might finish off her dress with a pair of kicky cowboy boots.
As a young woman, she was nicknamed “Tippy Toes” for her high heels.
And she was disciplined. Instead of sweets and carbohydrates, she munched on carrots. That enabled the 5-foot-1 inch Isabell to work into her mid-50s as a hosiery fit model. Garment manufacturers rely on them for dependable measurements to create consistently sized clothing. She modeled petite-sized nylons.
But when asked to model jeans, she refused. “She was never going to wear blue jeans,” said her daughter Robin Smith Kollman.
Even in her 90s, when it would have been easier to pull on elastic-waist slacks, she wore stockings and a skirt or a dressy suit by St. John.
Services were held in August for Mrs. Smith, who died at the Springs of Vernon Hills memory-care facility, her daughter said. She was 92.
She grew up at a time when Chicago’s North Side was filled with German immigrants, including her parents Charles and “Big Isabell” Yoerger. Young Isabell spoke Bavarian German at home and around the neighborhood. She had to repeat her first year at Audobon grade school until her English improved.
The Yoergers owned a tavern where her mother fed potato pancakes and other homemade specialties to hungry customers. Sometimes, little Isabell would nap there, stretched out across a couple of card chairs.
Like many Depression-era kids, she was grateful if she found an orange and some nuts in her Christmas stocking.
Instead of dolls, she liked playing kick-the-can with the neighborhood boys. Sometimes, she’d take the bus to Riverview amusement park.
After graduating from Amundsen High School, she worked as a secretary at Orange Crush and at a candy factory where, she joked, “she only lasted a day because she sampled the product,” her daughter said.
While working as a typist at Chicago’s Herald American newspaper, she met her future husband, “rewrite man” Robert J. Smith. “He thought she was cute, and she thought he was cute,” their daughter said.
But when he asked her if she’d like to see a picture of his baby, her heart sank. “She thought, ‘All the good ones are taken,’ ” their daughter said.
Then, he showed her his baby — his boat, named the Sea Scamp.
When they got married in 1950, the legendary editor of Chicago’s City News Bureau, Arnold Dornfeld, brought a gift of firewood he’d chopped himself.
The Smiths raised Robin and their son Glenn in Park Ridge and Wilmette. Mrs. Smith chaired a social club, the “Merry Marrieds,” with themed costume dances. Once, for a Spanish party, she dressed as a matador and her husband as a bull.
Her kids knew Mrs. Smith was throwing a party when the smell of her Carlton cigarettes mingled with her Tigress perfume.
Her husband, who became associate metropolitan editor for the Chicago Tribune, called her his Bavarian Princess. Because Mrs. Smith adored rum tortes from Lutz’s Bakery, he once bought two dozen of them for her birthday, lining them up with little handwritten signs he made that said “Hello Isabell” and “I’m for you.”
“He adored her,” their daughter said.
Perhaps because her own mother was working too hard to be home after school, Mrs. Smith always was. She volunteered to be a room mother and a den mother. And she listened to her children’s teenage worries, from test-taking to first crushes, without judgment, her daughter said.
“One time, on the way home from school, I saw boys my brother’s age hiding behind trees waiting for him,” Robin Smith Kollman said, ready to pounce.
She informed their mother, and the resourceful Mrs. Smith had a sweet and disarming solution: She brought out a tray of homemade cookies to the boys, who munched away and forgot about the ambush.
Mrs. Smith cooked a homemade dinner almost every night, including delicious spaghetti, pot roast and liver dumpling soup.
She had perfect posture. In her 40s, she taught her daughter how to do headstands by demonstrating herself, “which I thought was amazing,” Robin Smith Kollman said.
She loved dancing with her husband. In the 1970s, she mastered the Bus Stop and the Hustle. She knew the Electric Slide and enjoyed country line-dancing.
As she grew older, Mrs. Smith gave her children a peace-of-mind gift. “She said to never worry about her because she had a good life,” her daughter said.
And, she always said, “I love you more.”
In addition to her children, Mrs. Smith is survived by four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.