He found the man working behind a cash register at Wal-Mart in Brookings.
Smith, the keynote speaker at the May 8 Dakota Hospital Foundation Awards Dinner, held in the Al Neuharth Media Center on the USD campus, told the packed banquet audience that they, too, can find similar wealth within individuals living in their home towns.
Smith struck up a friendship with the Wal-Mart employee, named Aaron "Marty" Martinson, after he witnessed how this simple man had a profound effect on the customers in the store. He was so popular, in fact, that people would clamor to be waited on by him.
It wasn't long after Smith introduced himself to Marty that the two men became friends.
Soon Smith, who at the time was executive director of the South Dakota State University Alumni Association, began paying weekly visits to Marty at his home.
He took notes of their conversations, that ultimately were published in a paperback book, with a fitting title: The Richest Man in Town.
He hasn't gone on any book tours, or made a special effort to promote the publication.
Smith said he believes Marty's story is the book's driving force – the story of the life of a man who was considered rich because he was loved and respected, but most of all, Smith said, he was content with every aspect of his life, with no regrets.
Marty's simple philosophies, Smith said, show what happens when you take the time to be kind and compassionate.
"All that you give, you get back, and more," he said. "I'm particularly happy to learn that a group of people seem to enjoy the book the most – a group I wasn't really thinking of when I was writing – and those readers are children."
The greatest moment in his speaking career, he said, occurred in Mandan, ND last year at the North Dakota Youth Correctional Center.
"I could tell they had anger in their eyes, and I told them the same story I'm telling you tonight," Smith said. "When I got done, every kid, all 90 of
them, stood in a line, and we hugged, and we cried."
He said during one of his visits to Marty's home, he realized he was looking into the face of one of the happiest and richest men in Brookings, and money didn't have one thing to do with it.
"Heed the words of a cashier who had an eighth-grade education but a Ph.D. in life," Smith said. "In life, you get what you give. To be a friend, you got to do a little bit more, but those good things will come back to you."
And that, Smith said, is the true way to find happiness in life.