Smith-Graber Scholarship

Willard and Verna Smith have a deep and abiding faith in the church, its educational institutions, and the society of which they are a part. Their beliefs are evidenced by their lifelong membership in the Mennonite Church, their tenure on the Goshen College faculty from 1929 and 1931 to 1972, and their study and research in American (including Latin American) history and culture.

Willard was born into an Amish Mennonite family in Eureka, Illinois, in 1900. One of his grandfathers was an Amish Mennonite bishop. However, his parents “always supported education,” Willard said, and his father always encouraged him when he wanted to continue his education.

So, Willard went to Hesston College. Among other activities, he found time to do some dating and Verna Graber from Wayland, Iowa, attracted his attention. They were engaged in 1922 and married in September 1930.

Willard finished his BA at Goshen College and did graduate work at the University of Michigan with the intention of returning to Goshen to teach. Verna also secured her BA at Goshen and did her graduate work at the University of- Iowa, Indiana University and University of Wisconsin.

During World War II, Willard and Verna Smith served in Paraguay for the Mennonite Central Committee, and served again in 1954-55 for MCC in Mexico. They worked primarily among Russian Mennonites in both countries. Their work stimulated an interest in Latin American history and culture that they retain today.

Willard began partial retirement in 1968, Verna a few years later. They have enjoyed these years immensely with extra travel, study and writing. Willard has authored several books, including Paraguayan Interlude: Observations and Impressions; Schuyler Colfax; The Social and Religious Thought of William Jennings Bryan; Mennonites in Illinois and his autobiography, The Trail to Santa Fe: A Pilgrim’s Progress.