BVU mourns death of Tara Smith

BVU mourns death of Tara Smith

Jordyn Daggs-Olson, Staff

*Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Tara Smith’s death was related to COVID-19. That information was redacted from this online version. The Tack Online apologizes and seeks transparency when writers occasionally report inaccurate information 


“She was unafraid to be herself and taught others that same thing.” –Tessa Baxter, BVU alumna and friend of Tara Smith. 

The tragic news of a BVU’s student sudden passing spread across the University’s campus earlier this week. Tara Lynnette Smith died September 20 in Belton, Missouri 

Even though Smith was not completing any courses this semester, she had not technically yet graduated. She had two internships left to complete for both her business and theater majors. According to the BVU Theater Department, faculty, staff and administration are discussing the possibility of waiving those requirements and granting her a posthumous degree.  

Professor of Theater Dr. Bethany Larson recounted meeting Tara at her fine arts scholarship audition as a prospective student. 

“The first time I met Tara was at her scholarship auditionshe had performed a Shakespearean monologue…did a very nice job, it was very polished. I can remember saying to her ‘Okay, so can we work on this a little bit?’ and I think that Tara’s response was a little bit like ‘Oh, was it not good enough?’ but she didn’t stay in that place,” said Larson.  

After providing some coaching suggestions in approaching the monologue, Larson knew that she would be a good fit for BVU. “She went right back into it after that coaching and discovering something else in that monologue… [At BVU], we’re not looking for someone who already thinks they know everything. We’re always looking for people who want to expand what they do and what they want to learn,” Larson said.  

During her time at BVU, Smith demonstrated a passion for music, dance and acting. She channeled these passions into her involvement with the theater department. Throughout her four years, she contributed to nearly every production. Her first acting role was in Language Archive. From there, she acted in Radio Daze, Gianni Schichii, The Tempest, Spamalot!, and her last was co-directing “Magic Theatre” show for over 1400 school-aged children.  

According to David Walker, Associate Professor of Theater, when she was not onstage, Smith was helping in some capacity behind-the scenes. Whether it be helping with sets, costumes, stage directing, or assisting with actor’s make-up, she was always willing to jump in anywhere do whatever she needed to do to help the production be successful. She was someone that could be depended on and was always willing to step up and help in whatever way she could for every production.  

David Walker talked about her love of theater, dance and business and that she was looking forward to the next step of her life. Her love of dance was incorporated into the production of Spamalot! as she helped other actors learn choreography, even teaching many how to tap.  

We were trying to find ways to go into her dance world because she was a fabulous dancer, and we finally selected Spamalot! which has lots and lots of different movement and things in it. And she became one of the three choreographersThey did all of the movement and all the specialized teaching of all the people who didn’t know how to tap. That’s always a chore, but then also choreographing to what they could do and what they were being taught, and at the same time being an actor onstage in several different scenes,” Walker said.  

Both Larson and Walker’s lasting memories of Tara off stage are her eccentric personality and the passion she put into everything she did.   

“She was a good example of the motto for my acting class, which is live in the moment, be authentic, be generous. That was totally Tara,” said Larson.  

“One of the interesting things about working in theater is that usually you have camps…and a lot of the time they kind of move side-by-side, they parallel with each other but they are still in their own camps. And Tara really didn’t believe in that, or at least it didn’t show…She tried to make everyone feel included in the group that they were in, and that what they had to contribute was important which that’s being a good leader,” Walker said.  

Outside of theater, Smith was very involved in campus organizations focused on diversity. Omar Alcorta, former president of Multicultural Engagement Leadership Team (MELT), shared his experience of working with Tara. No matter what really was going on, she always found a way to make everything more positive and make everyone around her just happier,” said Alcorta. It was always just a pleasure to work with her.”  

Tara was particularly active with MELT events that focused on cultural music and dance. Some of those events included bringing Aztec dancers and a stepping group called Step Afrika! to campus.  “Anything that was about promoting cultural awareness and sharing one’s practices and cultures. She always had a sense of pride too in doing that and being open to sharing new things and trying new things and learning about new people,” said Alcorta. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who has that consistent sense of passion and peace and patience when it comes to working with people that are different from you culturally.” 

Alcorta added that her untimely passing really puts life into perspective. “We’re 22, 23 years old and for it to just come to an end like that...It sucks that it was someone so positive, and we won’t be able to have that energy around us anymore.”  

Members of the BVU theater program are currently working on creating a memorial display to be placed outside of Anderson Auditorium for the campus community to remember Tara in a way that abides by COVID-19 policies.  

BVU students, alumni and staff alike have posted reactions to the news of Smith’s passing on various social media sites. Many recall fond memories of their time with her and what they will miss most along with their condolences to Tara’s family. The following statements were published on the funeral home’s website under Tara Smith’s obituary.  

Dr. Melanie Hauser, BVU’s chaplain, wrote, “Tara was a bright light on the BVU campus who radiated joy everywhere she went.”  

Current student and close friend Sophia Hackbarth recalled the support Tara gave her through auditions and theater practices, citing her as one of the main reasons she chose to attend BVU.  

“Without Tara’s encouragement, I would not have become the actor I am…Tara was everything everybody wishes they could be. She was, is, and will always be so loved by everyone who was gifted enough to know her. She blessed this Earth more than she ever knew,” Hackbarth said.  

Natalie Brewer, a 2020 graduate and friend shared memories of her meeting Tara at Welcome Weekend in 2016 and as they both moved into Liberty Hall. Some of her favorite memories included watching movies in the community lounges, singing musical songs, traveling with concert choir and being avid participants in Humans vs. Zombies (HvZ). She writes that Tara was “the kindest soul I knew. Heaven gained a beautiful angel. She will always have a place in my heart. I will forever cherish our time together.”  

When Sarah Mackey, a 2018 BVU alumna, first met Tara through one of BV’s multicultural clubs, she was a shy and nervous upperclassman. She remembered how it was freshman Tara who made her feel like she was someone others could look up to. Tara helped her see what kind of person she could be and move towards that goal.  

Upon hearing of her passing, Mackey penned what she admired about Smith. “Tara was so unequivocally herself, and her energy was infectious…She lives on in my memories as this joyful, goofy person who was always ready to put a smile on people’s faces.” 

Due to COVID-19 restrictions in Jackson County, Missouri, the service will be by invitation only and for family. McGilley & George Funeral Home and Cremation Services will be livestreaming the service on Saturday, September 26 beginning at 11:00 a.m. Chaplain Melanie Hauser will be available during this livestream to meet with students as campus grieves this loss. A full obituary and donation information can be found at  

In loving memory of Tara Smith, photos courtesy of Buena Vista Theatre Department: