Auburn alumna, art museum namesake Jule Collins Smith dies

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Jule Collins Smith, known for her passion for the arts and education and the namesake of Auburn University's art museum, died Saturday in Houston. A memorial service will be held Friday, June 19, at 11 a.m. at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Houston.

"Jule meant so much to those who knew her, and she influenced countless individuals through the museum that bears her name," said Auburn University President Jay Gogue. "Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to her family and friends."

Jule Collins Smith was born in 1929 in Auburn and grew up in Lowndesboro and Montgomery, where her father, Albert Hamilton Collins, a former Auburn faculty member, was Alabama State Superintendent of Education. Enrolling at Alabama Polytechnic Institute in 1946, she met and married engineering graduate Albert J. Smith Jr. two years later without completing her degree. The couple raised a family and eventually settled in Houston. Keeping a promise to her mother that she would finish, Smith graduated from Auburn in 1999 with a degree in sociology.

When museum staff profiled the Smiths for the museum's 10th anniversary in 2013, Mr. Smith revealed he first had the idea to gift funds in his wife's honor as a 50th anniversary present when he found her clipping sweepstakes coupons as a way to build a museum for Auburn. He made many trips to Auburn before finally letting her in on his plan. The Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University opened its doors to the public in 2003.

The couple became actively involved in site selection and influenced the building's modern design. Their activity continued from groundbreaking to collections building to service on the museum's Advisory Board.

"Jule was not only the museum's namesake, she was a driving force that helped us early on form our mission to serve both campus and community," said museum director Marilyn Laufer. "Her spirit will continue with every child who experiences their personal capacity for creative expression and with every adult and Auburn student that has that ah-ha moment which makes their experience with art so life changing and meaningful at our museum."

Mrs. Smith said one of the things that pleased her and Albert the most was to hear the sincere comments about how much the museum has meant to the community and university, serving as an academic resource for elementary and high school students to college students and faculty to lifelong learners.

Today, the museum offers more than 200 programs and events annually and welcomes more than 30,000 visitors a year to experience touring exhibitions and ones organized from a permanent collection of more than 2,000 objects. The museum is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums – the highest professional distinction possible, one held by less than six percent of museums (university or otherwise) nationwide. The museum consists of six changing galleries, an auditorium, a café, gift shop, an English-inspired formal area and woodland landscape, outdoor sculpture, and landscaped walking paths.

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