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Marilyn Smits: Faith as an Anchor

Fast Facts about Marilyn Smits

Name: Marilyn Smits

Company: Smits Travel

Hometown: Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin

Favorite Bible Verse:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

— Romans 8:38-39

Favorite Destination: Smits loves to travel anywhere on Cape Cod — it was the first trip she ever led, back in 2015 with a turnout of almost 100 guests.

Hobbies: When she’s not globetrotting, Smits enjoys reading, knitting and spending time with her family.

If the ideal second act existed, it might be what Marilyn Smits has been doing for the past decade — traveling the world and guiding her contemporaries to amazing destinations.

A resident of one of the many Highlands Communities in the Menomonee Falls area — residences for people over 55 years of age — Smits inherited her role as the community’s travel coordinator from the person who had previously arranged annual excursions. Smits was already the leader of the over-65 group at her church, which organized travel and activities for its members. That made her the ideal candidate for the job.

“Instead of doing one trip a year, I started doing monthly trips,” said Smits. “My predecessor only worked within a couple of the Highlands Communities, and I work with 12 of them. I’ve expanded it a lot since 2015, which is when I did my first trip — bringing 92 people to Cape Cod.”

Smits’ strategy for finding interested participants is a no-brainer — she simply visits any of the dozen Highlands communities twice a year and gives trip talks to let residents know what the upcoming excursions are.

“I get all the people I need for the trips — word of mouth is huge for me,” she said. “People who don’t live in one of the Highlands Communities are put into my database and get a postcard letting them know the dates of the trip talks so they can attend one in their area. About half of the 1,000 people in my database don’t live in the Highlands Communities.”

Smits plans her trips about a year in advance, outlining the details of what sights, experiences and meals will be included in each trip. She takes a number of day trips to regional attractions and also plans trips around the country and even internationally. This coming year, she’ll be coordinating her first mystery trip.

“We have a trip to the Ark [Encounter] and Creation Museum scheduled, with 71 people on two buses,” she said. “We have day trips a couple of times a month to go see a musical like ‘A Christmas Carol’ and then to eat at a famous German restaurant in Milwaukee afterward. We plan to go and see Shen Yun and then go out to eat at a Chinese restaurant. We have two different 10-day trips to Maine planned during the summer. We are planning trips to Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, and we’re planning our first trip to Ireland.”

Smits says some of her favorite destinations have been day trips to quirky locales like the Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin, or the campus of Epic, a software company based in Madison that has a treehouse, a carousel and a replica of the Emerald City from “The Wizard of Oz,” among many other things to see. Smits’ previous career was in information technology, and though she did a fair amount of business travel, she’s glad that at this stage in her life she has the opportunity to travel as a career.

“I have always loved to travel as a hobby,” she said. “My first big trip was when I was 18. I had an aunt who loved to travel, and later, my husband and I would take road trips whenever we could.”

Through every stage of Smits’ life, her faith has been her anchor. She has been part of the Christian Reformed Church since she was a child. Smits believes being raised with such a solid foundation in a community where everyone truly cared about one another was a huge influence on her life. One of the most important parts of her faith is inclusion.

“When my husband and I got married, we decided it was very important to talk to everyone — that’s something that is very dear to me personally,” said Smits. “I’m very aware of not being cliquey. I make it a point to talk to everyone. I’m very aware of being inclusive.”

Travel Tips: 

1. When things go wrong, don’t panic and don’t complain. Fix the problem immediately.

2. Always be honest with your travelers.

3. Talk to everyone and have fun!