Matthew (Russell) Smebak Abts JD '11

Matthew Smebak Abts


Mathew (Russell) Smebak Abts JD ’11 passed away peacefully at home in Minneapolis on May 22, 2020, with his wife at his side. He was 41.

Mathew was born on March 13, 1979, in Minneapolis to Thomas and Martha Abts. He grew up in Rochester, Minnesota, and developed a lifelong interest in programming, gaming, and music. Mathew left high school to travel through Europe. When he returned, he earned his GED and, shortly before 9/11, joined the air force. He served as an intelligence analyst and specialized in Mandarin Chinese and not getting in trouble for reading Chinese comics while on duty.

When he left the military, Mathew drove cross-country in his beloved Buick, doing research for the FBI and studying electrical engineering, finance, and criminal justice. He started and sold a private investigation firm in Colorado, earned his bachelor’s degree online, was an over-the-road truck driver, worked as an EMT, learned to sail, and played in professional poker tournaments. He spent several years auditing circulation data for major U.S. newspapers and earning impressive loyalty-point balances at low-budget hotel chains.

Mathew completed a law externship with an arbitration firm in Beijing, where he bought remarkably durable knock-off Ralph Lauren polo shirts that he wore throughout the rest of his life. He qualified as a CPA in 2014. His love of a good story and good people was evident throughout his life. He also never ever stretched the truth about anything.

While living in a camper van in southern Oregon and serving with AmeriCorps, Mathew met the love of his life. He and Nancy Smebak moved to Champaign, Illinois, where she earned her master’s degree. The couple relocated to the Twin Cities where Mathew went to work, in his words, “hunting down millionaires” for the IRS, and Nancy began her career as a city planner. They were married in 2016, and their daughter Helena was born in 2018.

Mathew is survived by his wife and daughter; parents, Tom and Marti; and sisters Amy and Jennifer; as well as a great many far-flung friends he considered family.