Terre Haute banker Don Smith passes

Don Smith, former president and CEO of First Financial Bank, Terre Haute, Ind., passed away Sunday at the age of 90.

Smith was retired president and CEO of First Financial Bank, known previously as Terre Haute First National Bank. In 1983, under Smith’s leadership, First Financial Corp. was established as the bank’s holding company, and the next year it became Indiana’s first multi-bank holding company. The bank now operates dozens of offices in Indiana and Illinois.

He was president and CEO of the bank from 1974 to 2013, when he also retired as president and CEO of the holding company. He continued as emeritus president and chairman of First Financial Corp., until March 2014.

Smith’s success in the banking field grew out of a political setback when he ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Terre Haute in 1967, Fred Nation told the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, who covered Smith’s campaign as a reporter for the Terre Haute Star.

“He’s not adequately appreciated for what he did in business,” Nation said. “After he lost that race, he went to work for First National Bank, a small local bank, and he built that into what is now a $3 billion publicly traded corporation – the only one we have that is based in Terre Haute that is traded on NASDAQ.”

Nation cited Smith’s shrewd business and marketing skills.

“It just kind of happened, but he’s the guy who made that happen,” Nation said. “He knew how to hire good people and he knew how to build great leadership.”

Smith was also a local racing legend. He served as director of competition for the Terre Haute Action Track from 1951 to 1980 and, in 1952, he and Terre Haute businessman Chapman Root started Su-Mar Racing, named for their wives.

In 2015, the Indiana Racing Memorial Association unveiled a historical marker that honors Smith and the Terre Haute Action Track.