BY CARMEN SIERING
If there is any thread that connects the disparate aspects of Jeanne Smith’s life, it’s her ability to reimagine the world. Whether it’s recreating herself to become the person she was meant to be (Smith, now 64, lived as a man until age 55), refurbishing items so they can find new purpose, or participating in politics, Smith makes change happen.
When Smith arrived at Indiana University in the 1970s, earning a bachelor’s degree and managing the student-owned cable radio station WQAX were high priorities. But as a Maconaquah High School student from Peru, Indiana, Smith had studied auto mechanics and had worked at a car dealership. It was those skills that helped Smith start a business that has been part of the Bloomington landscape for more than 40 years.
In 1975, money was tight. When a neighbor asked Smith to make some bike repairs, Smith suggested buying the bike outright, then selling it back to the neighbor after figuring out the cost of parts and labor. “Even though I didn’t know anything about bikes, I knew I could fix anything,” Smith explains. In the end, the price was too high for the original owner, but Smith sold the bike, posted ads, and bought more bikes. That was the beginning of ReCycles. Later, in the mid ’80s, reconditioning used bikes became less profit table and Smith began selling new bikes, changing the name of the shop to Bikesmiths.
Over the years, Smith has continued to promote bike safety and culture, and she’s also renewed her interest in reusable materials as event organizer, designer, and model for the Trashion Refashion Show. She’s also been active in politics, running for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1996; serving as director of COUNT US!, an I-69 opposition group in the early 2000s; and, most recently, serving as a District 8 Bernie Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
When she ran for Congress, Smith hoped someone would hear her ideas and pick up on them, but no one did. “But with Bernie, about 80 percent of his platform is what I had in mine,” she says. Smith says she felt a responsibility to represent not just the interests of Sanders’ supporters at the convention but to represent transgender persons as well. “In the United States, more people say they have seen a ghost than a transgender person,” Smith says. “I wanted to go there and show we’re respectable, respectful, and respected. For me, that was a big part of me being there.”