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Recycling company owner Michael Smith '89 establishes endowed chair of business

What you throw away, we would like to conserve--that is the motto of Valley Proteins, Inc., and that is the commitment of a truly green company headed by Shepherd alumnus Michael Smith '89 and his brother J.J. The company is a current leader in air and water quality controls and, most recently, has developed a process to provide alternative fuel for industrial boilers through the use of animal fats.

This family-owned business was started by Mike's grandfather in Winchester, Virginia, almost 60 years ago as a service to recycle waste meat by-products and spent cooking oils. The business has grown to be one of the largest independent rendering companies in North America, operating 12 plants in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

Mike didn't start out to be a businessman; his first love as a college-aged teen was horses. As a two-time national champion, he was good enough at showing horses to be considered as Olympic material and was on the path to pursuing that goal when he took a spill from a horse that resulted in a serious back injury that ended his career goal. Still wanting to ride, Mike decided to attend Shepherd mainly because of its proximity to his home and horses in Winchester. He now says this serendipitous decision resulted in a fantastic experience.

"I wasn't a particularly good student in high school," said Mike, "because I spent all my time and energy on riding. I was horrible in grammar and writing. Mrs. Betty Byrer, my English teacher at Shepherd, realized my potential and gave me the extra help I needed to become a confident writer. My high school sweetheart, later my wife, was amazed at my progress.

"I was also fortunate to have Francine Phillips as my advisor at Shepherd. She lived near us and knew our family business and steered me into what I needed to learn to be a part of our business."

Following graduation from Shepherd, Mike went into the family business, then owned by his father. He married Debra and has been blessed with two children, Victoria, 13, and Mitchell, 10.

Mike never forgot Shepherd and has given back to the University in many ways. He has been a guest lecturer in the business program and is serving on the Shepherd University Foundation Board of Directors. In 2004 he established a scholarship in memory of his father. He remembers his father as a strong supporter of education and a firm believer in employing good people who needed a chance to succeed. The scholarship is designated for financially needy students from Winchester or Frederick County, Virginia, majoring in business, science, or engineering.

Mike credits much of his success to his supportive family and the examples they set for hard work, responsibility, and determination. Mike holds much admiration for his maternal grandfather, Edward L. Snyder, who grew up in Martinsburg during the Depression and had to drop out of school at the age of 12 to support his family. He never returned to school, but educated himself through reading and lifelong learning. His son graduated from Shepherd and he encouraged his grandchildren to go to college.

To honor the memory of their Grandfather Snyder, Mike and his brother J.J. recently established at Shepherd University an Endowed Chair for Business to stimulate growth of the business department. Mike's mother, Dolores Smith, has also made a substantial gift to this endowment. She has been a successful businesswoman on her own in rental properties in Winchester.

"Shepherd is in a great location to be successful," said Mike. "Area businesses need well-educated people, and they compete with Northern Virginia to get them. We have more Shepherd grads on our payroll than any other college, and they have benefited our business greatly."

"Mike's story sets a great example for our Shepherd students today," said Shepherd University President Suzanne Shipley. "Rather than shy away from subjects that were difficult for him, Mike redoubled his efforts to address his weaknesses. That quality of perseverance made him a match for Shepherd's individualized attention and has clearly led to his success today. Mike and his brother J.J. have taken their family's business to the cutting edge by matching an evolving product with evolving needs, in creative and even revolutionary ways. We are gratified that their talents reflect so well on Shepherd University, and we thank them for their generosity."

Self-proclaimed as hyperactive, Mike is a man on the go. He keeps a very busy schedule both at work and with his family. He hasn't given up on horse riding, even after breaking five ribs last year in a fall. The whole family now rides, and his daughter is starting her second full circuit this year on the national level. Mike said they have a good start this year with all their horses placing well the first two shows.

"We've been through good times and bad with our company," said Mike, "but through a lot of creative thinking and planning, we've positioned the company to meet future environmental needs in a number of ways, including producing bio-fuels that burn cleaner and can compete with oil. I am thankful to the past generations of our family, way back to Grandfather Clyde Smith who started the business in 1949. They worked hard and took risks so that this business could grow and improve. I like to think they'd be proud of what we're doing today."

--Sharon Henderson

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J.J. (l.) and Mike Smith '89

Valley Proteins, Inc.
Valley Proteins, Inc., with corporate headquarters in Winchester, Virginia, has been in the rendering business for more than 50 years. The company's processing facilities recycle various food waste materials into usable products for agri-businesses. The fat products are also used in the manufacture of bio-diesel and bio-fuels. Giving ecologically sound service is the nature of the company's business. Valley Proteins' facilities exceed or equal air and water pollution control regulations. The company is constantly improving ecological safeguards in its collection, transporting, and processing techniques.


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