Sophia Wilsford Smith Van Arsdell, 99, died peacefully at her home in Urbana, IL, on March 5, 2023, surrounded by her family. Raised in West Point, MS, Sophia graduated cum laude from Mississippi State College for Women (now Mississippi University for Women) in 1944. Subsequent to graduation, she worked during WWII as a civilian employee for the Navy department in Washington D.C., where she met her husband to be, Paul Marion Van Arsdell, a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy. Upon his release from the Navy, they were married in West Point on September 15, 1946, and returned to Illinois, where he resumed his professorship on the faculty of the University of Illinois at Urbana.
Sophia and Paul (who died in 1994) maintained a home in Urbana-Champaign from 1946 until her death, though they also resided in Delray Beach, FL, and Oxford, OH, for five years each where Paul served as a Distinguished Professor of Finance at Florida Atlantic University and as the Armco Steel Professor of Finance at Miami University, respectively, after Paul’s retirement from the University of Illinois in 1971. Sophia was actively involved in charitable and social organizations too numerous to list in each of the communities in which she lived and she developed deep ongoing friendships that lasted throughout her life.
Born on January 17, 1924, in West Point, MS, to J. Lucian Smith and Sara Cottrell Smith, Sophia was the youngest of four children. Her two sisters, Dorothy Anne Smith Davis and Sara Cottrell Smith Blanchard, and her brother J. Lucian Smith, Jr., each preceded her in death. Each of the members of her family, like so many others, faced the financial difficulties coming out of the Great Depression. Each learned from their parents the value of education and hard work and each enjoyed success in their vocational pursuits. Equally important, each also learned the immense value of family. Sophia, her sisters, and her brother remained incredibly close throughout their lives as have their children (one of whom described the relationship among the nine cousins as just like brothers and sisters).
Sophia’s and Paul’s two sons, Paul Marion, Jr., and Stephen Cottrell, were each raised in Urbana and graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana. Paul, Jr., and his wife Barbara predeceased Sophia in 1990 and 2021, respectively, as did granddaughter Kaitlyn’s infant son Sachamayu Van Arsdell in 2014. Sophia is survived by: Stephen and his wife Elizabeth (Naperville, IL) and their six children: Lora (Angelo) Bartocci (Nolanville, TX), Kaitlyn (Mangesh) Kulkarni (Albany, CA), Mary Van Arsdell (Chicago, IL), David Van Arsdell (Philadelphia, PA), Carrie Van Arsdell (St. Charles, IL), Stephanie Van Arsdell (Chicago. IL), and 5 great grandchildren; J.A. “Gus” (Mary) Blanchard (St. Paul, MN), Robert (Sandra) Blanchard (Cincinnati, OH), Lisa (Albert, deceased) Davis (Madison, MS), J. Lucian (Patty) Davis (Nashville, TN), Sara Davis (Andrew) Merryman (Houston, TX), Daniel (Barbara) Smith (Roswell, GA); Fox (Evelyn) Haas, Shurley Haas (Bill) Sugg, Toxey (Diane) Haas (West Point, MS); Nina Haas (Page) Davidson (Nashville, TN), Albert (Glenda) Clark (Starkville, MS); Curt Alexander, Grace Alexander (Plains, MT); Brandi Lewis, Michael Hesselmann (Urbana, IL); Mary Catherine Arthur (Peter) King, James (Libby) Arthur, Robert Arthur (Columbus, IN); Lois Van Arsdell Buckspan (Salisbury, NC); and other nieces, nephews, and cousins far too numerous to list.
A celebration of Sophia’s life will be held on Saturday May 20 at 11 am central time at the Champaign First Presbyterian Church, 302 Church Street, Champaign, IL 61820 (217-356-7238).
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to a charity of your choice or to:
The First Presbyterian Church of Champaign or
P.E.O. Program for Continuing Education
c/o Shirley Anderson
4903 Westborough Dr.
Champaign, IL 61822
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