Among other singles in Amarillo, Texas the idea built up momentum faster than tumbleweed in a dust storm. Beginning with seven charter members, the organization, now known as Singles Too, has grown to 350. Some singles, of various denominations, drive as far as 60 miles to attend Sunday morning meetings at the Paramount Terrace Christian Church, and the athletic events, seminars and Western-style dances that Singles Too sponsors.
Presiding over the festivities is Smith, the divorced father of two and owner of an advertising agency, whose 30-minute inspirational messages propounding the power of positive thinking have earned him the sobriquet "Shah of the Singles." His message: Live alone and like it—and have fun. Says Lowell McKown, a local newspaper editor: "The options for singles here are drinking, dancing or going to church. The Shah enables us to do all three and feel good about it."
Indeed, Smith, who likes to draw on the Bible and touts Jesus as "the greatest single of all time," is seeking to change what he sees as "the poor self-image of singles." He says, "Not just in Texas, but all over the country singles are dying for something meaningful in their lives," adding, "many of the problems come from stereotypes about the single life-style by the media. It's a false picture and a poor image. I'm out to set the record straight: It's okay to be single."
Before Sunday services in the church gymnasium, newly built to hold the crowds, members gather early to sip coffee and swap gossip about who's dating whom. (Singles Too takes credit for several marriages.) Smith puts everyone at ease. "I'm truly amazed to see some of you today after that party last night," he joshes from the podium. "But it was fun, eh? Who says we aren't sophisticated? Just because we have a dance and end up tossing cow patties at peach baskets." Then Smith gets down to Biblical business, often citing David ("He practiced positive thinking and managed to make the most of his life") and, always, Jesus. "He had some family and friends but spent a lot of time alone, just like singles do today, and he sure had his share of troubles," says Smith. "But think about it. Jesus had no money or establishment type of power, yet he changed the course of history."
Born in Oklahoma City, the son of an electronics expert, Smith attended New Mexico State University in Las Cruces and in 1966 launched a successful broadcasting career in the town. After eight years of marriage he and his wife, Sandra, a marketing executive, were divorced. "After that my church became foreign and nothing made sense," says Smith. "The Southern Baptist pastor was no help, and I began losing all my friends. I dropped out of church and started working on my golf game." He moved to Chicago, but missed the Southwest and settled in Amarillo in 1979 to start his own advertising agency. "It was then," he says, "that Sandra and I decided it was time for Kevin [now 16] and Jeffrey [now 12] to come live with me."
Smith dates occasionally, but he is proud to be single and happy to share his joie de vivre. "One guy came up to me with tears in his eyes," says Smith. "He told me he was so buried in problems and so tired of being single that he had decided to end it all. Then he stumbled into my class. 'You saved my life,' he told me. I see him sitting out there each and every Sunday. That makes it all worthwhile."
It all started a couple of years ago when some of us single parents felt guilty about just dropping off our kids at Sunday school," says Dan Smith, 41. "We decided to try to get together every Sunday morning at the same time. We wanted to talk over the perils and problems facing single people, especially single parents."