Will and Marj met in 1958 at the University of Michigan. He grew up in pre-integration Little Rock, Arkansas. She was raised in small town Fenton, MI. Their backgrounds could not have been more different, but those differences didn't matter when they ran into each other one evening at a party. Marj was wearing a pale blue sweater set and plaid poodle skirt. Will asked how she was "classified" and she worried that she seemed unsophisticated when she didn't know what he meant (he was asking what year she was at the university). So began a relationship that would last them each a lifetime.
Will and Marj's interracial relationship was exceedingly uncommon at the time, and the cause of much anguish and much beauty throughout the years. They were trailblazers in a time when their marriage was still illegal in some states. Despite the risk and fear involved, they were undaunted. They married and were blessed with children.
Will went on to play football in the early NFL. He was drafted by the Chicago Bears, then played for the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders, retiring in 1963 due to a strong belief that unfair contract terms were offered based not on his performance but rather his interracial marriage. They moved from the East Coast to West, then north to Berkeley, before joining so many others of their generation in a shift back to nature, landing once and for all in Mendocino in the mid '70s.
The road less traveled is a lovely road, it turns out, but not without its difficulties. While the Smiths raised a family and made many ties that bind on the coast, they never realized a significant amount of material stability. They were blessed by great fortune in affordable housing situations, and lived modestly on a small income provided by Will's work first on the green chain at Georgia Pacific and later as a counselor and mediator; as well as Marj's work as a secretary and librarian for the school district, then later in her role at the Mendocino Art Center.
Accumulating wealth was neither a skill nor a priority, but they made things work. The costly nature of living in such a beautiful area was worth it to them. Their love for their community was all consuming, and made any sacrifice worth it to be among the people and places that welcomed & accepted them in a way the outside world never had.
Sadly, this material lack has become glaring in recent years as their health declines. Marj has been diagnosed with Alzheimers as well as Diabetes. Will suffers many maladies associated with his early years of football at a time when the many dangers of the sport were unknown and unaddressed. He is no longer able to care for Marj's increasing care needs as his own become more pressing. They are facing their golden years in a financial position that does not afford them the support they require.
Their children and friends have watched their situation deteriorate in desperation for years but the couple's pride has precluded early intervention. Recently, medical emergency made intervention a necessity. Will was found unconscious and spent a couple of weeks in the hospital. Their separation was enormously unsettling for Marj and it quickly became clear to all of us that Marj is unable to live alone. Their reunion was emotional and moving, yet laced with anxiety regarding their future.
For the time being, the two are safe and well taken care of, however the costs of this arrangement are beyond their reach and both Will and Marj are ready to accept that they need help. They are scared, they are vulnerable, yet they maintain a sense of optimism that has carried them far. Family and friends are contributing to their support and care, but the financial mountain is tall and impossible for us to climb alone. We are asking for your help in allowing this beloved couple to spend their remaining years in a state of comfort and dignity.
We, their children and grandchildren, are currently researching all options available to them moving forward in a very uncertain time. Every dollar of your donations (minus what GoFundMe takes) will go directly toward keeping Will and Marj safe, comfortable, and cared for in their final years. This may be in the context of a long term care facility, or it may entail extensive improvements to their home so they can stay there with caregivers. It will help ensure nutrition, medical and emotional support, and their safety. Most importantly, it will allow these two pioneering individuals to finally experience the peace that they have strived for along their very bumpy, yet beautiful, road in life.
If Will or Marj have ever touched your life - maybe Marj read your astrology chart, or you enjoyed listening to Will read on his KMFB radio show “Story Time” when you were a kid - or if their story just strikes a chord...please consider helping.
In Deepest Gratitude,
Will, Marj, Dorian, Brad, Nia, Dylan, Erik, Sophie and Families
DonationsSee top donations
- Anne Yount
- Sabrina Zink
- Richard Falkenrath
- Boyd Denise
Fundraising team (4)
#1 fundraising platform
More people start fundraisers on GoFundMe than on any other platform. Learn more
In the rare case something isn’t right, we will work with you to determine if misuse occurred. Learn more
Contact us with your questions and we’ll answer, day or night. Learn more