- Associated Press - Monday, September 28, 2015

SAVOY, Ill. (AP) - When Bill Smith was a child growing up in Urbana, his family didn’t travel.

“We didn’t have a pot or the window to throw it out of,” he said. “My dad didn’t even have a car. I didn’t ride in a car until after I got out of the service.”

But in the 10 years that he has been retired from teaching about park resources at Eastern Illinois University, Smith, 73, and his wife, Merry Ann, 64, have made up for any slight he may have felt as a child.

By the end of July, the Savoy couple had visited all 48 states in the continental U.S., accomplishing their 2015 goal in way under a year. And they covered just under 24,000 miles.

“We’ve been in all the states before, just not in one calendar year,” said Merry Ann, who retired in 2006 from teaching at Kenwood School in Champaign. “That wasn’t our goal to do it in seven months. It just happened.”

They like to drive and stay in hotels, said Merry Ann, who serves as the navigator and reservation clerk via smartphone while Bill drives.

The Smiths have three grown daughters but no grandchildren, so they’re passionate about traveling, preferring spring and fall, when most families with children are tied to home and school.

“We have already visited all the national parks in the lower 48,” said Merry Ann of a previous accomplishment.

Her favorite is Zion in southwestern Utah. Bill’s is Yellowstone in the northwest corner of Wyoming because of its “diversity and size.”

Married for 37 years, they camped when their girls were young because they didn’t have a lot of money. Now, they just get in the car and go, usually without a specific itinerary.

“We’re very casual travelers. We like not having a schedule. If you’re driving, you don’t have to be as particular about how you pack,” Merry Ann said.

And gas hasn’t been that expensive the last couple years, she noted.

In January, they went east and south. That’s when they decided to try all of the lower 48 states in one year. In March, they headed south and southwest; in April, to Washington, D.C., for cherry blossoms; in June, north and northeast all the way to Maine; and in July, west all the way to California.

Bill said that on the last trip, they did about 5,880 miles, hitting 13 states in the process.

Prompted with the right question, Bill Smith can talk a blue streak about out-of-the-way places they’ve seen, many recommended to them by national park rangers, such as the Hagerman Fossil Beds in Idaho or the Delaware Water Gap in Pennsylvania.

Did you know that Illinois poet Carl Sandburg and his wife bred and collected goats and spent the last 20 some years of Sandburg’s life in North Carolina?

Smith does, and that an artist has been commissioned to make a statue of a goat in Galesburg, Sandburg’s Illinois hometown, in the poet’s honor.

“The most interesting thing is how many people we have met and some of the stories we’ve heard about people’s travels,” he said.

On a recent trip to Michigan, they were staying in Toledo, Ohio, when they learned of a fort south of Toledo built during the War of 1812.

“They had an encampment going on that weekend for all of the wars - Revolutionary, 1812, Civil, World War I and II. We stumbled onto that,” he said.

While the couple likes the southwest in the winter, they’re not interested in relocating permanently.

“Bill likes to move around. I don’t think we’d be happy staying in one place. He’s not a golfer or anything. I have a lot of friends here. We have one daughter in Colorado, and the other two are here in Illinois,” Merry Ann said.

“We have season football tickets,” added the loyal University of Illinois fan.

Smith, a Savoy village trustee, has meetings the first half of the month that he attends. They try to limit excursions to two weeks or less. Merry Ann has a rule about not doing laundry on the road.

Mostly the couple prefers to collect memories rather than things on their travels. But Bill Smith has a couple of weaknesses.

“I’ve got 20,000 to 30,000 photos. I have an over 4,000 to 5,000-plus collection of Yellowstone postcards. I collect photos of national parks.”

The couple has also been to Alaska, touring the interior and taking a cruise. And their daughters chipped in for his 70th birthday to pay for a trip to Hawaii. The money is still in the bank.

“I don’t want to spend nine hours on a plane to Hawaii,” he said.

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Source: The (Champaign) News-Gazette, https://bit.ly/1KWe5c2

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Information from: The News-Gazette, https://www.news-gazette.com


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