When stepping into the Columbia home of raw vegan Jane Smith, the smell of spices is evident. Fruit sits on the cabinet top and wine bottles are displayed against the red and green walls of her kitchen. Smith lets her cat Maizy inside through the door as she walks into the naturally lit sitting room. She tucks her Missouri State Senior Games t-shirt into the waistband of her windbreaker pants and ties a rogue shoelace on her tennis shoe as she relaxes on her recliner with an ice-cold glass of water in hand.
Smith, also known as Blazin’ Jane, is a mother of seven and grandmother of 30. She is also a health coach and the owner of Abundant Raw Life (abundantrawlife.com). Her resume includes swimmer, instructor, model and even hospital chaplain. The high-energy 74-year-old retired in 2011 after serving as the Fulton State Hospital chaplain for 25 years. Occasionally, she works with the National Association of Catholic Chaplains.
Although it might appear that Smith is still as busy retired as she was when working full time, she said she feels like she has a lot more free time. The activities that fill her days now don’t feel like work because she enjoys what she does.
“I have about 15 clients now, and that’s just about enough,” Smith said as she followed Maizy into her red and green kitchen. “I don’t want to feel overwhelmed by anything, but I like to have enough time to keep physically fit [and] to fix good food for myself.”
Smith’s passion for exercise includes biking, swimming and, when she was younger, running. Smith ran two marathons in her forties. The nickname “Blazin’ Jane” was born during her three years in Italy. She ran with a group in a park on Saturday mornings.
“Every once in a while, we’d have a race,” Smith said, “and I was the oldest and the slowest and they’d say, ‘Here she comes! Blazin’ Jane!’ ”
Smith laughed and readjusted the Fitbit on her wrist as she recalled other places she had lived. It all started when she married her husband, Bob Smith. She was a junior in college when she married Bob. He was stationed in Idaho shortly after they married, so Jane finished the first semester of her junior year and then left school to be with him. They moved 14 times in the first 20 years of their marriage because of Bob’s career in the Navy. During this time, she worked a variety of jobs including being a model, third-grade teacher and swim instructor.
They continued to move throughout Bob’s time in the Navy. She reeled off a never-ending list of states in succession: California, Idaho, Connecticut, Maine, back to Connecticut, then to Idaho again, Virginia, Hawaii, then to Virginia again, California, Italy, and finally Omaha, Nebraska in 1982. This move was during their eldest daughter’s senior year of high school, which was extremely hard on her. So hard in fact, that the Smiths decided to stay in Omaha for the next 18 years.
In the mid 1980s, Smith began working as the Fulton State Hospital Chaplain in Fulton, Missouri. This time, her husband accompanied her to their current home in Columbia. While moving from one place to the next, Smith was busy becoming a mother of seven. She explained that after hearing a nurse in one of her college classes speak about women reclaiming their bodies in the form of natural birth, she decided she wanted to have all of her children naturally. However, she only had two of her children naturally in the form of an at home birth.
Having her last two children naturally was her way of taking control of her body and expressing her feminism. Smith said she highly recommends home births and believes her experience with it helped to acquaint her daughters to the process and realize that it is a beautiful event, not something to be covered up. Smith even delivered several of her grandchildren.
Smith was raising children and working during a time when women’s roles were more rigidly defined. However, this did not stop her from working, going to school while taking care of seven children and frequently moving. She even appeared in the Contemporary Women’s Newspaper in 1986 as a model to inspire women to do whatever it is that made them happy: whether that was going back to school, having children, working, or in Smith’s case, a mixture of all three.
Today, Smith has 30 grandchildren, 15 biological and 15 adopted. She sprang from her chair and jogged into the hallway to point out seven picture frames on the wall filled with each of her children’s families.
“The kids feel pretty strongly about getting everyone together, too, because they grew up without a lot of family around because we were moving all the time,” said Smith, “so they like that they’ve been able to provide some connection for their own kids.”
Smith frequently travels to visit her children who live in Nebraska, Missouri, Virginia and Colorado. They also have a big family vacation every other summer. The last one was to Wisconsin. Smith said that this big family has contributed to her interest in food.
“I’ve always been interested in nutrition because I had all these kids, and I had to keep them alive,” said Smith. “I mean you can’t just give them HoHos every day.”
The Smiths have been to Lake Michigan, the Bahamas and the mountains in the past but she is not sure where the next vacation will take them.
Currently, Smith works part time as a health coach, teaches raw food chef classes and hosts a monthly potluck with her group, The Columbia Raw Food Feasters. Jane began the group in August 2008. Once Jane went raw in 2006 she wanted to find other people who enjoyed the same kind of food. In the beginning, she began inviting friends over to her house to eat but eventually it became so popular that they needed a larger venue.
One regular at the potluck is Susan McCollegan. Smith met McCollegan about two years ago when Smith taught a raw food class at Lucky’s Market. McCollegan was the only one in class that day. Because of this, the two ladies got to know each other and Smith invited McCollegan to her potluck. They are frequent yoga partners.
“She’s grounded,” said McCollegan. “The reason I say that is she walks the talk. She lives what she believes. In my experience with her is that she’s a very grounded person, and she’s done the research in order to do the things she believes.”
The Columbia Raw Food Feasters meet once a month for a potluck organized by Smith. The food includes anything from raw chocolate, which is made without milk, to vibrant colorful salads full of nuts, fruits and vegetables.
“It’s so interesting because every month there are new things that I’ve never tried before, so it’s always a gastronomical experiment,” said McCollegan. “There are so many tastes and textures … and it’s all good!”
Smith admits that she tries not to plan her future too far out, but she does expect to keep health coaching for another five years. She hopes to stay physically active and keep biking, swimming and enjoying yoga. She also wants to stay involved in her church, go to as many movies as she can, watch her offspring grow and have a good time.