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Skiing for a cause

Adoption is the focus of Wednesday's Child event at Waterville

WATERVILLE VALLEY, N.H. -- He has been a member of the national ski patrol, a lifelong Rocky Mountain skier who began in the 1940s on the long boards with leather boots and beartrap bindings. But in New England, he is better known as the TV news anchor with the mellifluous baritone and infectious grin.

Jack Williams is also known for the hope he and his wife, Marci, have given to hundreds of special needs children in the last quarter-century whose greatest need has been adoption into stable and caring homes.

Next weekend at Waterville Valley, Jack and Marci will host the 21st on-snow version of Wednesday's Child, a ski racing outgrowth of the WBZ-TV feature he started in 1981.

Since 1984, the Jack Williams Ski Race for Wednesday's Child has helped almost 500 special needs children find new homes and raised more than $3 million for the Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange.

Long before Wednesday's Child, long before he owned property at Waterville Valley, long before he appeared on WBZ as evening news anchor, Williams was a serious skier.

"I was on the National Ski Patrol in Washington state," he said. "I was raised around ski areas in the Pocatello, Idaho, area on the Oregon Trail. I started going up when I was very young with my best friend. So after the Rockies, when we moved here, we began coming to Waterville maybe 30 years ago."

Tom and Daphne Corcoran, founders and owners of the Waterville Valley ski area, approached Williams in the early 1980s about beginning a fund-raiser for the US Ski Team, of which Tom Corcoran was a member. The first ones were, Williams found out, much more work than he anticipated -- and not very productive.

"So that's when I decided to do [the event] for Wednesday's Child. At first it was small, but there were some keys. American Airlines was with me from Day 1. And then 13 years ago, Dave Thomas [founder of Wendy's] came through promoting a book and when he heard about Wednesday's Child and the ski race, he turned to his people and said, `I want us to be involved.' And, boy, did they ever get involved."

At the same time, Volvo came on board as the official car of Waterville Valley -- known at that point for staging World Cup events -- and a major and successful skiing/fund-raising event matured.

Five years ago, Williams set up a trust fund to carry the Wednesday's Child event on in perpetuity.

"We call it the Jack Williams Endowment for Wednesday's Child and, at this point, we're at about $2 million. Payne Webber has it, and right now we're giving away from a quarter to half a million dollars a year and that will increase."

Facts and figures aside, it is the human side of the event that nourishes the Williamses. Many of the early adoptees, now grown, still keep in touch, and, Jack said, he keeps track of them.

There's Jillian, a 15-month-old born with Down syndrome who was adopted almost immediately after she was brought to Williams's attention. Two years ago, the Williamses helped Jillian and her family celebrate her 20th birthday.

And there was Travis, who a few years after her adoption resurfaced in Jack's life with a letter written in her sixth-grade class, with an enclosed piece of fabric and pen. He was to autograph the fabric as part of a class project on people who have made a positive difference in the lives of others. According to Travis's instructions, he could keep the pen as a gift.

Of Wednesday's Child, Travis wrote: "I know this has led to many adoptions of children, and it makes me happy to know that these children are getting good, loving homes. It is especially important because I know that older children are harder to get adopted and most of the time are sent from foster home to foster home. You have helped these children a lot through the years. You have made a difference in the lives of so many families."

"Like all years, this year we will have a successful Wednesday's Child adoptive family as our guest. One of the kids coming back this year is one of the few babies we've ever featured. So this year we have Benjamin, who was given up by his parents because he was Down syndrome. Well, on the 20th anniversary, we were reunited with him at age 19. He had graduated from high school, the whole community knows and loves him, and he's just one of these positive thumbs-up kids."

The Williamses do not ski as much as they once did, but with grandchildren, they do make trips to the slopes. Still, it's a far cry from the seasons when Jack remembers getting in 60 days.

"But it's just such a great sport, I've always loved it. And it's so different now from the days of the old equipment, and today's grooming makes it so different. It's really easy to do and easy to stay with as we get older."

How long Jack and Marci will keep involved in Wednesday's Child ski event -- an extremely low-overhead operation they run out of their home -- is still an open question. The work they put in -- along with the tremendous staff of volunteers at Waterville Valley and WBZ -- is the stuff of legend. Had they used such time and energy on their own behalf, Jack said, with his familiar chuckle, things might be different today.

"Had we devoted the effort to making money, we'd probably be rich. But I wouldn't do anything different. We have enough for ourselves anyway."

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