A writer, speaker, editor, radio host, and program officer, Bertha (Bert) Mae Kruger was one of the most influential figures in the history of the Hogg Foundation.
Born in Wichita Falls, Texas, on Nov. 18, 1915, to Russian immigrants Sam and Fania Kruger, Kruger Smith was a precocious child. She won first prize in the Kemp Public Library Poetry Contest for her poem, “The Ghost in the Sky.” She later published her first book of poetry with the same title at the age of 13.
At the age of 15, Kruger began attending classes at The University of Texas in Austin and transferred to the University of Missouri the following year. While at Missouri she met and fell in love with fellow student Sidney Smith. She graduated with a degree in journalism, returned to Texas, and married Smith in Houston in 1936 when she was 20.
After brief stints in Port Arthur and Wichita Falls, the couple spent three years in Alaska before returning to Texas in 1940. Kruger Smith earned her Master of Arts degree in English with a sociology minor in 1949 from UT Austin, and in 1952 was hired as a part-time staff writer at the Hogg Foundation. In 1955 she was promoted to a full-time position as the technical reports editor, in charge of education in mental health through mass media.
Kruger Smith was a prolific writer, and during the course of her more than five decades with the foundation she wrote seven books and dozens of articles on a wide range of problems and concerns including aging, alcoholism, institutionalized living, the role of women, parenting, poverty, and handicapping conditions.
Smith had a special interest, however, in the mental health of children, particularly in her early years with the foundation.
Her first book, No Language but a Cry, was published in 1964 and her second, Your Nonlearning Child: His World of Upside-Down, soon after in 1968.
By 1973, after years of researching, writing, and speaking about children’s problems, she turned her attention to the other end of the spectrum of life with her book Aging in America. She later wrote three more books on the topic of aging.
For 10 years, from 1972 to 1982, she hosted The Human Condition, a 30-minute radio show on Austin's KUT FM, interviewing experts on mental health, philosophy, sociology, and other aspects of what it means to be human. The archives of the show, which includes almost 400 episodes, are currently being digitized and made accessible to the public on iTunesU and at the website of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.
Kruger Smith retired in 1983 but continued on as a special consultant to the foundation until the early 1990s. The establishment of the Bert Kruger Smith Centennial Professor of Social Work at The University of Texas at Austin was awarded in her honor. The University of Missouri, her alma mater, awarded her an honorary doctorate in 1985.
She died July 26, 2004, after a long struggle with lung disease. She was 88.