By Marilyn Kraft
Our daughter, Melanie, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) when she was very young, so this disease has been a part of our family for over four decades. She never complains and carries on with such grace that sometimes it’s easy to forget that she is dealing with a disease 24/7.
Over the years, I would talk with my dad, Bill Smith, about Melanie’s T1D, the JDRF Mission Summits and the amazing research progress JDRF was helping advance. That, along with the fact that Melanie provided him with two amazing great grandchildren, really made Dad feel that JDRF was a worthwhile organization to support; not only for Melanie but for the millions of people dealing with T1D daily.
When Melanie’s sister, Amy, moved to San Francisco in the late 1990’s she got involved with JDRF’s local chapter and started making connections in the T1D community. Now both of us were updating my dad about T1D advancements and introducing him to T1D community leaders like Lorraine Stiehl and notable investigators like Dr. Matthias Hebrok from UCSF.
I am thankful to JDRF that they gave Amy and me the tools to talk with my dad about T1D. But I feel like the experience that really ignited my dad’s passion for supporting T1D research was when our family attended the 2018 New Mexico gala. It gave my dad the opportunity to meet quite a few families and hear directly from JDRF Youth Ambassadors about how much easier their T1D is to manage thanks to JDRF technology advancements. There is nothing quite like a 10 year old beaming about his diabetes technology to melt your heart. And when my husband Steve broke down on stage speaking about our love for Melanie and our commitment to JDRF, it hit my dad that he could make a bigger impact.
“More recently it was the development of a promising T1D cure accelerator – the JDRF Center of Excellence with UCSF and Stanford – that impressed my father. We are grateful that he made several generous gifts to advance the science at the JDRF Northern California Center of Excellence.”
Our family always teases about the fact that when my mom and dad got married back in 1948 – my dad had so little that he had to “jump to touch bottom”! However he had such a curious mind and such a drive to succeed that it seemed that almost everything he touched turned to gold. Over the years he started a hardware store in Pennsylvania; moved to California and became a citrus grower; and then the travel bug bit him and he tried to figure a way to travel, so he opened the travel agency in Carlsbad California – eventually specializing in cruises.
I am thankful that I saw my parents be philanthropic and share the fruits of their success with others. After my dad sold his travel agency he helped other nonprofits raise money. He and my mom formed a non-profit foundation and through that he helped other nonprofits organize cruises and tours. He was able to give back the commission usually kept by the travel agent and also sell the trips at a price that made it very desirable to people. Over the 10 years that he did this, he helped raise almost $750,000 for nonprofits in the Boulder City, Nevada area.
My dad not only supported JDRF, but also bought a building in Boulder City, Nevada and leased it to the community college for $1 per year so that they could have a branch in Boulder City. After the college closed that branch, he donated the building to the city on the condition that they would call it the Elaine K. Smith building in memory of my mother. That building is used by the citizens of Boulder City for concerts, and other community activities. Several years ago, dad read an article about a small town in New Hampshire called Francestown that was losing their country store. He was very intrigued, because the community of about 200 people depended on the country store for groceries and postal services. Francestown is about a 15-20 minute drive to the closest community, so losing their country store would have made it difficult for residents of this small town to access bare necessities. Dad called and talked with the city manager and offered to pay off the back taxes on the building and then donated it to the historical society. The historical society and the community raised money and the store opened up again in the last year. Even with Covid, the community was driven to get their store back and my dad gave them a head start. His only condition was that they call it the Three Sisters Building in honor of his three daughters Marilyn, Ruth, and Gloria.
My dad was a quiet man and never looked for kudos or praise for his generosity. He just was so excited to be able to quietly help others and be able to sit back and enjoy their success. He lived to be 95 years old and never tired of learning new things. He was a giant of a man. The hole left in our family will never be filled. Anyone who was lucky enough to know my dad was blessed and will always remember what a great man Bill Smith was!