Bill and Phyllis Smith were married Aug. 25, 1955 (above). Today they are residents of Grace Village in Winona Lake. Both are in their 90s and still mostly do all their own cooking. Photos by Amanda Bridgman.
Bill and Phyllis Smith were married Aug. 25, 1955 (above). Today they are residents of Grace Village in Winona Lake. Both are in their 90s and still mostly do all their own cooking. Photos by Amanda Bridgman.
WINONA LAKE – Built on a foundation of faith and love, Bill and Phyllis Smith look back fondly on their 65 years of marriage.

The Smiths live at Grace Village in Winona Lake after having lived in places from California to Florida.

“We picked living here, because we love it,” Bill said. “We’ve been here about six years, and we’re here by choice.”

The Smiths were married Aug. 25, 1955, after meeting at a church in California when he was 29 and she was 26.

“I grew up in D.C., went to high school and the pastor at the church that I went to was at Grace Brethren and he said you need to go to Grace Seminary, because I started preaching when I was 17 years old in Washington, D.C.,” Bill said. “I spoke at the mission, the jail, evangelistic meetings for a week or two and got to know a number of real important people in Washington, D.C., and I came to Grace Seminary for one year. I thought that’s corn fields, I’ll never be happy, but I came and stayed for three years, and I love it. I love the lakes, the slow way of living and I was tired of the politics of Washington, D.C.”

When Bill graduated from Grace Seminary, he was single.

“And I really didn’t have any real love affair,” he recalled. “I was preaching special evangelistic meetings, I was in South Bend, Fort Wayne, places I’d never been before, and then one of my travels took me to California when I was preaching in a church there, and I met Phyllis.”

Phyllis was teaching at a Christian day school when they met.

Bill told a story about how he was 29 years old and had a week of meetings in Albuquerque, N.M., when a woman asked him before he left if he thinks he will ever get married.

“I said, I doubt it. And she said I’m gonna pray for you,” Bill recalled. “I left Albuquerque, I went to Whittier, Calif., I had lunch with the superintendent of the school where Phyllis taught, and he and I went to lunch together and he said I want you to come back with me to my school, I want you to meet my staff of teachers. I met Phyllis. I fell in love with her, and here this girl (in New Mexico) had asked me are you gonna get married, and I was resigned to the fact at 29 I can live single, I’ll travel, I can do this, I’ll have big cars and have a great life. But I married Phyllis and had a better life. We had two wonderful children and I look back, and I’m telling you from my heart I look back and I thank God for the life I’ve lived.”

Bill is now 94 and Phyllis is 92.

“Still, at these ages, everyday he tells me a number of times that he loves me, and I think that’s pretty terrific,” Phyllis said. “It’s not humdrum, it’s right there all the time.”

The Smiths have a daughter, Sherilyn, who went to college at Grace, and a son, Jim, who passed away seven years ago due to medical reasons.

“Our daughter lives two miles from here, and she’s just lovely and she helps us anytime she can,” Phyllis said.

“Jim was a wonderful Christian boy. His wife and boys live in Florida. We miss him all the time, but he’s in Heaven,” Bill said.

They also have six grandchildren and a 2-year-old great-granddaughter named Winona.

Their marriage has endured many things, mostly lots of travel and figuring out unique ways to make ends meet.

Bill would travel and move the family to other states while he would go try to help a struggling church. All together, Bill pastored eight Grace Brethren churches. He would go when they needed to find a new pastor and pastor the congregation for maybe three years or so, and then they’d move on to another church that needed his help.

Phyllis would get together trios and duets for church music programs, and she said he always enjoyed putting a home together so she never minded the moves.

“I was really getting tired of that heavy travel,” Bill said. “I was married and we had two children, but they were in back of me. They prayed for me, they said we love you for what you’re doing and don’t stop doing it because of us, so I kept doing it. While we were here (in Winona Lake), I was going out to meetings, and the income is very, very small. I had two children, and both of them wanted to go to college, so I built Merrywood Mobile Home Park over here on Wooster Road on a shoestring. I bought the bare land and built that park and then also along the way I got a couple of little side jobs. I was selling cars and I worked for Smith Ford when they were downtown, so just bringing in income. But my main objective always was to preach the gospel and go any place no matter if they could pay me or not, and Phyllis was in full agreement.”

“We weren’t a perfect couple,” Phyllis said. “We had little squabbles here and there, but it was never something that would make us say hey, we’re gonna part. When we got married, we got married for life, and the Lord has let us live this long.”

The Smiths enjoy living in their Grace Village apartment and still do nearly all of their own cooking. They pray everyday and enjoy the friendships they have, some that have been going on for 50 years.

“What we’re kind of summing up is, really we look back and thank God for a great life, 65 years together,” Bill said. “It’s been a great life, we thank the Lord for it and you know, it’s been exciting, it’s been good and we still enjoy every day. We thank the Lord every day we still have our health and we’re able to do a lot of things. This isn’t our native home, but it has become our home. We love it.”