The man who made his money by inventing the upside down spray can device died last week in Elgin at age 89.
Tom Smrt ran Fox Valley Systems in Cary, a hugely successful company that manufactured lane markers for shopping centers and other parking lots. He was not beloved by his employees.
He once showed me that his profit margin was 20%, then compared that figure with the top earners in the Fortune 500.
Not many did better.
Smrt loved Shire horses.
He bred them and developed Shireland to show them off.
When the horses charged each other from opposition sides of a large arena, the ground shook.
A 1991 Chicago Tribune article described the park like this:
“Firebreathing dragons, knights in shining armor, medicine men and wizards combine to make this theme park an enchanted forest in the far Northwest suburbs.”
Shire horses are at least eight feet tall.
At its peak his Marengo farm was birthing a hundred foals a year.
He donated horses to the Caisson Unit of the United States Army and eight to the Queen of England. He flew the horses to England.
But it is his intrusion into the political arena that lands this piece on McHenry County Blog.
In the 1980’s, the McHenry County Board decided that there should be a regional airport under its control.
The Board hired a consultant who came up with eight (I think) potential sites.
One would have had planes flying over his farm.
To say that he took offense would be a great understatement.
He was so disturbed that he founded a monthly publication that was sent to registered voters across McHenry County. I think it was called the McHenry County Chronicle.
Every month the slick paper publication poured criticism on County Board actions.
When the next primary election came, he endorsed candidates.
It was the only time when my father’s allies won all the seats in District 1.
Needless the say, the County Board did not move forward on its airport plans.
And Smrt’s interest in politics diminished.
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The lesson of the political part of this obituary is not to enrage people who are willing to spend money like water.