Smith, Samuel Roger (1853-1916)

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Samuel Roger "S. R." Smith: businessman, educator, and a noted leader in the Brethren in Christ Church; born 16 September 1853 in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania (PA), USA, the third of five children of Michael Smith (20 February 1819, Dauphin County, PA - 16 May 1885, Dauphin County, PA) and Mary Anna (Schoop) Smith (26 July 1821, Dauphin County, PA - 28 April 1894, Dauphin County, PA). Samuel married Elizabeth Light (22 September 1853, Jonestown, PA - 5 June 1919, Grantham, PA), daughter of Henry Oberholtzer Light (1827-1905) and Catherine (Gerberich) Light (1832-1910), in 1874, and they had eight children that lived to adulthood: Elizabeth, Cora, Carrie, Samuel, Sadie, Henry, Emma, and Joseph. Samuel died on 12 September 1916 in Lebanon County, PA, and was buried in the Annville United Zion Cemetery in Annville, PA.

Samuel was raised in the United Zion Church. He excelled in the classroom and passed his teacher's examination at the age of 15. After teaching for a few years, Samuel attended Eastman National Business College in Poughkeepsie, New York, where he excelled in mathematics and business. During this time, Samuel was an active member of the school's debate team, which specialized in disputing Christianity versus atheism. An adamant nonbeliever at the time, Smith argued against fundamental Christian beliefs. After graduating at the top of his class, Samuel attended Columbia College, where he obtained a master's degree.

In 1879 Smith entered the milling industry with his brother-in-law, John Light, and dealt in stocks. After several years the business failed, and during this time Samuel experienced a change in heart and became a believer, joining the United Zion Church. Following the failure of his business, Samuel and Elizabeth moved to Harrisburg and began to manufacture noodles. In 1909 he moved the operation to Grantham, PA, where he constructed the largest factory of its kind east of the Mississippi River.

In 1896 he and his wife became members of the Brethren in Christ Church. Ten years later he was elected to the ministry. In 1896 he helped to found Messiah Rescue Home and Orphanage in Harrisburg (later Messiah Village near Mechanicsburg, PA). In 1916 he brought the orphanage to Grantham where it was known as Messiah Orphanage. He was elected secretary of General Conference in 1899 and retained that office until his death in 1916. As General Conference secretary he had the major part in drafting the constitution and bylaws of his denomination when it was incorporated in 1904. With John R. Zook he produced the first Brethren in Christ hymnal that utilized musical notation. From 1905 to 1916 he was a member of the denomination's General Executive Committee, in which position he traveled widely in the United States and Canada to deal with major denominational problems. In 1913, when the Brethren in Christ in the Grantham area organized into a district, Smith was elected its first bishop.

Smith is best remembered as the leader in the founding of Messiah Bible School and Missionary Training Home (later Messiah College). Against much opposition and largely from his own financial resources, he obtained a charter for the school in 1909. During the first academic year, classes were held in his house in Harrisburg. When the campus followed Smith and his noodle company to Grantham in 1911, it was to a large building on land donated by Smith behind his newly constructed house. He taught Bible in the school and served as its first president from 1910 until his death in 1916.

Smith was an avid amateur scientist and astronomer. Through the years he collected an excellent laboratory which he eventually gave to the science department of the college he had helped to found.


Evangelical Visitor (18 September 1916): 20.

Find A Grave. "Samuel Roger Smith, Sr." 13 December 2006. Web. 18 July 2016.

Messiah College. "S. R. Smith (President, 1910-1916)." 2013. Web. 18 July 2016.

Sider, E. Morris. Messiah College: A History. Nappanee, IN, 1984.

Wittlinger, Carlton O. Quest for Piety and Obedience: The Story of the Brethren in Christ. Nappanee, IN: Evangel Press, 1978: 289-299 passim.

Author(s) E. Morris Sider
Richard D. Thiessen
Date Published July 2016

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MLA style

Sider, E. Morris and Richard D. Thiessen. "Smith, Samuel Roger (1853-1916)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. July 2016. Web. 27 Sep 2023.,_Samuel_Roger_(1853-1916)&oldid=135121.

APA style

Sider, E. Morris and Richard D. Thiessen. (July 2016). Smith, Samuel Roger (1853-1916). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 27 September 2023, from,_Samuel_Roger_(1853-1916)&oldid=135121.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 829-830. All rights reserved.

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