A Sweet Ending To A Long Career

House Manager Petro Smith Retires from Breckenridge Village of Tyler

Photo: Petro Smith
Petro Smith with Kevin C. Dinnin, President & CEO

The BCFS System and the Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT) family extends sincere congratulations and heartfelt appreciation to BVT House Manager Petro Smith on her retirement. For 11 years at BVT, Petro worked with a servant’s heart to make a loving, lasting impact on the lives of the residents she served as a House Manager.

Petronella Smith, or “Petro,” as she was fondly referred to for short, has a story that begins nine thousand miles away from Tyler, Texas, in Pretoria, the capital city of South Africa, where she grew up as the eldest daughter of Roelof and Anna Elizabeth Dercksen. She refers to her time growing up in South Africa as “the good ol’ days,” before television, when children spent hours playing outside. Her parents were poor, but Petro makes sure to mention that she and her siblings never lacked for anything.

“We grew up in a happy home,” Petro says. “We never went without and my dad’s pockets always had candy,” she says with a laugh. “We would have never known we were poor.”

Petro earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Pretoria and a teaching certificate from the Teachers College in Pretoria in 1975.

“I taught grades 10 through 12,” she explains, “German, biology and my native language, Afrikaans.

After a nearly two decades-long teaching career, Petro traded in her classroom chalkboard for income statements, balance sheets and ledgers to help her husband, Johnnie’s, small accounting business. She also fondly recalls working as a caretaker for an elderly person who was confined to a wheelchair. Her interactions and experiences as a caretaker inspired Petro to create practical and fashionable garments designed to help her patient with the daily task of getting dressed.

Unfortunately, many negative changes were taking place in South Africa at that time, and she and her husband were contemplating a change of scenery when entrepreneur and fellow countryman Pierre DeWet suggested moving to the East Texas town of Tyler, where Pierre had several business interests and was in need of Johnnie’s accounting expertise. Petro and Johnnie decided to move the family to Tyler, Texas.

“We came to the United States in 1997,” Petro says. “The main reason; to get a better future for our four children.’
“Mission accomplished,” she says, thankfully. “By God’s grace, three of our four children are in the medical field, and our other son is a plumber.”

At BVT, Petro earned high regard for her sense of accountability and for her positive attitude. In 2007, she was working as a classroom helper in BVT’s Day Program. When an opportunity came up to be a House Manager, then-BVT Executive Director Jim Anderson personally encouraged Petro to take on the new role. Petro remembers taking time to pray about it before deciding to say “yes!”

John Dooley’s sister, Beth Ann, lives on the BVT campus in House One where Petro served as House Manager. For Petro’s retirement, John and his wife, Ann, traveled to Tyler to congratulate Petro on her retirement and to say “thank you” for her work with Beth Ann.

“She was the answer to our prayers. She is like family,” John says of Petro.

At her retirement celebration, Petro said what she loved most about her job at BVT was the unconditional love she received from the residents in her care.

“The world would be a much better place if people were more like the residents here at BVT,” she says. “There would be no wars or terrible things.
“There is just so much love,” she continues. “Every day is fun. I don’t consider it a job spending my time here, and getting a paycheck is just a bonus. They (the residents) are like my children.”

BVT Executive Director Steven Campbell introduced a video collage of residents and colleagues sharing their love and admiration for Petro. Judy, a BVT resident in the audience, could not hold back her tears, saying she was really going to miss Petro. When Campbell noticed Judy crying, he said it was evident Petro has made a lasting impact on the BVT community.

“Working with the residents is her passion,” Campbell says.

Linda Taylor, BVT Associate Executive Director of Advancement, and April Lanier, BVT Director of Residential Services, unveiled a cross decorated with beautiful pink roses that will adorn the BVT chapel wall in Petro’s honor, and gave Petro a crystal cross as a token of their love and admiration for her compassionate work with BVT’s residents.

Photo: Petro with BVT Residents
Petro embracing BVT residents

Though she is retiring from her responsibilities at BVT, the 66-year-old grandmother of five plans to stay busy. First thing on her agenda is a month-long trip back to South Africa to visit her mother. She will then indulge in some long-awaited family fun time with her granddaughters. Petro also plans to pursue her passion project; working with the elderly population to innovate products that can enhance their way of life in their golden years.

As a token of their appreciation for Petro, BCFS President & CEO Kevin Dinnin and BCFS Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer-Community, International & Residential Operations Asennet Segura presented her with a special retirement gift.

“She is an exceptional lady,” Dinnin said as he turned from the 200 gathered to address Petro, directly. “We are all honored to have worked alongside you, and we are thankful for your 11 years of dedicated service.”

Petro was clearly touched by the outpouring of love. She used her moment to deliver a message that spoke just as much of a commitment to service as it did of a woman who dedicated her career to helping others.

“It is not about me,” she said. “It’s about the residents.
“My time at BVT is, and shall always be, the highlight of my life on this earth,” she adds. “I am forever thankful to God for giving me this wonderful opportunity. God bless BCFS forever and ever.”

She thanked BCFS System leadership for their own commitment to helping those in need around the world. She thanked her BVT colleagues for their kind thoughts and for a decade’s worth of teamwork.

Congratulations, Petro and thank you! The BCFS System family wishes you a retirement of rest and new adventures!