War Bonds

A love that encompassed 600+ boys

27752281_1681363845235569_8711793506394066114_n[1]

They met in eighth grade.

Fell in love while attending West Valley High School.

And eventually Betty and Brian O’Donnell’s love would grow to encompass their own children, plus more than 600 boys.

Betty vividly remembers her first encounters with Brian.

“He had so much charm!” she said.

He was also impossible to miss on the football field. He played fullback and sported the No. 1 jersey all through high school.

They graduated from West Valley in 1946, and three months later, Brian went overseas.

“I volunteered to be part of the American occupation of Japan,” he said.

Before he left he gave Betty a ring and a promise.

“He told me, ‘Don’t worry about me, because I’m coming back,’” Betty recalled.

While they were apart they wrote letters to each other every day.

“I still have all of them,” Betty said, smiling.

Brian enjoyed his time in Japan. While there, he and some friends scaled Mount Fuji. But it was the citizens who captivated him.

“I’ll always remember the people of Japan – they were the nicest people. I almost feel like in another life I was Japanese,” he said.

After 18 months, he returned to Spokane, ready to embark on his life with Betty.

“We were sitting on the davenport in her mother’s house,” he recalled. “Betty said, ‘My mother keeps asking me when we’re going to get married.’ So, I told her to set the date.”

Twenty-four days later, on Jan. 24, 1948, they married at Millwood Presbyterian Church. Betty’s mother made her gown.

The 19-year-olds settled into an apartment in Browne’s Addition. Betty worked at the Paulsen Center, and Brian attended Kinman Business University.

By the time their first child was on the way, Brian was working in the payroll department at Washington Water Power Co.. They moved to Millwood and lived in a trailer in his parent’s backyard, and that’s where they brought son, Kurt, home in September 1949.

Daughter Colleen arrived in 1951, and Brian wanted to attend college. Betty’s father encouraged them to join him in Texas and offered to help. They moved to Beaumont, Texas, and Brian enrolled at Lamar State College.

One year in Texas was enough. The couple found the racial prejudice of the area intolerable, and as soon as Brian finished his first year, they left.

Son, Rory, arrived in 1956, and the young family moved to Seattle, where Brian enrolled at the University of Washington.

“We got faculty housing and paid $85 a quarter because we had three kids and a dog,” he said. “I went to school from 8 to 12, then worked at Boeing from 3 to 11.”

Brian graduated with an education degree, and was quickly offered a job teaching seventh grade in Otis Orchards.

He served as president of the PTA and Betty was the vice president. One evening at a PTA meeting, a counselor spoke about a troubled 14-year-old boy who desperately needed a home.

Betty’s hand shot up.

“I’ll take him,” she said.

They became licensed foster parents and eventually adopted their son, Ray.

After a year at Otis Orchards, Brian transferred to East Valley High School where he taught business classes, and became the school’s first wrestling coach and eventually, its first special education teacher.

“It was love at first sight,” he said of his special ed students. “The kids were so needy. They just needed someone to love them, to help them.”

Meanwhile, Betty was finding more and more troubled boys to love. By the time daughter Heidi arrived in 1965, they regularly had up to four foster boys living with them and knew they needed more space.

They purchased 140 acres at Newman Lake that had once been the Circle KD Ranch, a kids’ summer camp.

“The original owners wanted the property to be used for children,” Brian said.

They had plenty of those. They renamed the property Shamrock Acres Boys Ranch, and it became one of the first group homes in the state.

Betty took charge, doing the cooking, cleaning, shopping and supervising for 10 to 14 teenage boys, as well her own five children.

“It didn’t seem like work,” she said.

Brian grinned. “Betty’s philosophy was everybody will eat breakfast together, and everyone will come down with a smile on their face.”

The diminutive lady didn’t bat an eye when boys twice her size rebelled. If there was a discipline issue, she’d ask the boy, “Do you want to settle this with me? Or do you want to wait till Brian comes home?”

They almost always chose to settle the issue with Betty.

Their property didn’t only house kids. A wide array of animals including llamas, emus, chickens, dogs, cats, goats, rabbits and even a wallaby made the ranch their home.

In 1979, the ranch became Shamrock Educational Alternative, a private boys home, and teenagers from across the country lived with the O’Donnells.

“Some stayed for dinner, some stayed four years,” Brian said. “If you give kids love and a family, they’ll be OK.”

They hired additional counselors and were able to take time off to travel each summer.

When their youngest child graduated from East Valley, Brian retired at age 55, after a 25-year teaching career.

“Then I worked full time for Betty,” he said, chuckling.

In 1987, he built a house across the road from the boys’ home. But his wife had one stipulation.

“I had to put the pool in first because Betty didn’t like swimming in the lake,” Brian said.

They traveled often, taking 12 cruises, including a return visit to Japan for Brian.

“We’ve felt so fortunate in every turn we’ve made,” Betty said.

In 1995, they closed the group home, but they still hear from boys who lived there.

The celebration of their 70th anniversary last month, brought back many memories of the boys who came through their doors, and they expressed gratitude that their love ample enough to include so many.

But now they enjoy the simple pleasure of time together.

“He still has lots of humor. He makes me laugh,” said Betty. “He was and is the one for me.”

When asked how others can achieve such lasting love, Brian answered succinctly.

“One day at a time,” he said, smiling. “One day at a time.”

27867318_1681363905235563_7516173971414838964_n[1]

Advertisements
War Bonds

Celebrating 70 years of a marriage that is “so much more than friendship”

Barbara and Ray Lewis have a lot of reasons to be thankful this Thanksgiving – 70 of them, to be exact.

The couple married Nov. 23, 1947, so in addition to the traditional turkey day feast, they’ll be celebrating 70 years of wedded bliss.

She was born in Texas, he in Ohio, but they met in Indiana, and 3 1/2 months later, they married.

Barbara was traveling with a group of students who were going door to door inviting people to special church services. It just so happened that the services were being held at the church Ray attended in Fort Wayne.

“He made a point of meeting all the girls,” Barbara, 94, said, smiling.

Ray, 92, was finishing up his engineering degree at Indiana Tech and had indeed met all the girls in the traveling group, with one exception. An exception he rectified as quickly as possible.

“He saw me because I was wearing a big black hat,” she said.

Ray doesn’t recall the hat, but he does remember approaching her and saying, “I believe your name is Barbara.”

He’d done some reconnaissance.

When he discovered Barbara was staying with a couple who’d asked him to photograph their newborn son, Ray an avid amateur photographer, decided now would be the perfect time to take that photo – even though the child was now a year old.

The family asked him to stay for dinner, and he didn’t hesitate. He also invited Barbara on a triple date the next night.

“There wasn’t much to do in Fort Wayne in those days,” recalled Barbara. “We went to the drugstore and had a soda and then walked to the park where they had a lighted fountain. We watched the colors change.”

She still has a postcard featuring the park and the fountain.

The next day, his sister, Mary, came to visit. She was dating Ray’s roommate, Ted. Eventually Mary and Ted would wed as well.

They arranged a double date.

“Ray thought that gave him an excuse to sit by me in church Sunday morning,” Barbara said.

The church meetings concluded, and it was time to say goodbye. Ray went to the station with her.

“Barbara had to be the last one out of town,” Ray said.

That was fine with him.

“I wasn’t ready to turn loose of her just yet,” he admitted.

In fact, he made her promise to write to him. She agreed on the condition that he would write back.

As the train began to pull away, he stood outside her window and used his finger to trace the words “please write!” in the dust.

Back home in Texas, Barbara checked her mailbox every day.

“If there wasn’t a letter, I let him have it,” she said.

But Ray was taking his finals and the pressure of the letter-writing got to him.

“I got tired of that kind of romance,” he said.

So, when Barbara told him that she and her parents were moving to Erie, Pennsylvania, to help establish a church, Ray was delighted. Erie wasn’t far from his Ohio hometown. He quickly hopped on bus to visit her. Well, she did most of the visiting.

“She did all the conversation, just like she does now,” he said, grinning.

They both got jobs at General Electric, and one September evening Ray borrowed her father’s car and took her to see Lake Erie.

“It was a moonlit night, and the waves were breaking over the shore,” Barbara recalled.

It was the perfect place for a proposal. When she said yes, Ray went straight home to borrow money from his mother to buy an engagement ring.

They married on a Sunday night, just after evening service in the middle of a snowstorm.

She wore a dress and headpiece made by her mother and the preacher’s wife, and they caught the last train of the evening to Cleveland for their honeymoon.

While there, a duck nearly derailed their happy future.

They went roller-skating, and the rink was giving away live ducks and turkeys.

“Wouldn’t you know it – my name got called for a duck,” Barbara said.

Now, she happened to love ducks and even had pet ducks while growing up on her Texas farm. They resolved to ship the duck home.

“It was going to be our first possession,” she said.

Alas, there were no shipping crates to be found, and they finally had to sell the duck for a dollar to a guy at the Express Station. He said his family would be having duck for dinner the next day.

“That broke my heart,” Barbara said.

She shot a glance at her husband.

“I’ve never forgiven him!”

But they both chuckled at the memory.

That sense of humor got them through many moves in the next seven decades. Ray was a mechanical engineer for oil refineries, and they lived in 13 states and four Canadian provinces.

“Every place we were sent, I decided that’s where we’d retire,” Ray said. “I’m happy anywhere I am.”

His happiness grew along with their family. Daughter Linna was born in 1950, followed by Kent in 1952, Leslie in 1954, Laurie in 1959 and Lorinda in 1964.

Since they lived in so many snowy places, the family developed a passion for skiing. Great skiing opportunities led their son to move to Spokane, and 11 years ago when Ray finally retired, the couple joined him.

“I retired many different times, but they kept asking me back,” he said.

When it comes to advice for those who wish to achieve their own happily-ever-after, Barbara proved practical, Ray philosophical.

“Always make the bed together as soon as you get out of it,” Barbara said. “Making the bed takes five minutes instead of 10, and it’s very effective in introducing your husband to household chores.”

Ray said, “Don’t think about it (marriage) in terms of 70 years – think of it in terms of one year at a time, and go with the flow.”

Then he grinned.

“I’m still finding problems with her,” he teased.

Barbara smiled, acknowledging that Ray is her friend “most of the time,” but then grew serious.

“Marriage is so much more than friendship,” she said.

She looked at Ray.

“He’s one of the best men who ever lived.”

23621408_1591013590937262_1513994905519849698_n[1]


War Bonds

70 Years of Adventure

20708109_1498992003472755_632359020316113008_n[1]John and Amy Roberson

Amy and John Roberson grew up in the same small community of Woodland, Washington, on farms about 2 miles apart. They attended the same school grades K-12, yet it took a world war to bring the couple together.

That’s not to say Amy went unnoticed by John.

“I had my eye on her,” he said. “She was very attractive.”

In their Greenacres home, Amy shushed him.

“Now, now,” she said, smiling.

But neither of them can recall a single conversation between them until they met again in 1945 in Washington, D.C., where both were serving in the Navy.

John had been accepted to the V-12 Navy College Training Program in 1943. The program was designed to supplement the force of commissioned officers in the Navy during World War II.

He thought the Navy would be a great fit for him.

“I loved the water,” he said. “I built my own boat on the Columbia River.”

It came as quite a surprise when the first place the Navy sent him was to the University of Kansas.

He shrugged.

“I studied engineering at the University of Kansas.”

Amy had to wait until she was 20 to enlist.

“My uncle was in the Navy in World War I,” she said. “I wanted to join the Navy, too.”

After basic training, she was sent to the U.S. capital to study decoding. Meanwhile, John was stationed nearby, in Norfolk, Virginia.

A mail carrier in Woodland kept track of the local youths in the service. He discovered there were eight Woodland youths in the Washington, D.C., area where his daughter was stationed, and he connected them.

They all got together and had a great time talking about home, and that’s when Amy truly noticed John.

“John asked me for a date,” she recalled. “We were supposed to meet at the movie theater. It was pouring rain, and I showed up with drippy hair.”

Wet hair didn’t deter him from asking for another date.

Soon John left for what would be the only cruise of his Navy stint.

“My sea duty consisted of taking a ship from San Diego to Charleston (South Carolina),” he said.

They stayed in touch and both returned to Woodland when they were discharged in 1946.

“We both qualified for the GI Bill, and I told him I was going to WSU,” Amy recalled. “John said, ‘I think I will, too.’ ”

They got engaged in April 1947 and returned home in August for their wedding.

Amy made her wedding gown and bridesmaid dresses from parachute silk.

“I got a whole bolt for $10, so we all wore white,” she said.

On Aug. 17, 1947, they were married at the Presbyterian church in Woodland. They honeymooned in British Columbia and then returned to WSU where John received a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering in 1948.

Amy, too, would eventually earn a degree in home economics, but first busy years ensued.

Son, Roger, arrived in 1950, followed by twins David and Janice in 1951.

The young family moved numerous times as John pursued a master’s degree, followed by a doctorate.

“It was hectic,” Amy said.

She recalled many late nights and early mornings when John would place Janice across his knees and jiggle her to sleep while he studied.

He taught at WSU, and their children were active in Camp Fire and Boy Scouts.

In 1963, they moved to Thailand when John accepted a teaching position with the SEATO Graduate School of Engineering.

Two years later the family set out to visit the famous Bridge over the River Kwai and the POW Memorial. As they crossed the bridge used by pedestrians, carts and bicycles, a train approached.

Roger and David took refuge on a pedestrian platform on one side of the bridge while Amy, Janice and John perched on the other side. As the train drew near, John reached out to help a Thai man on bicycle with a large metal ice cream box balanced on the back. As the train passed it hit the metal box which knocked the bicycle into the three of them. Amy, Janice and John were thrown against the bridge railing which broke, sending them plunging into the dry riverbed beneath.

“We hit hard,” John recalled.

Their sons scrambled to help.

“The first aid training they received in Scouts really paid off,” Amy said.

The boys cautioned the locals not to move them, checked for bleeding and signs of concussion and summoned an ambulance.

“I do think they saved our lives or at least made our injuries less severe,” said Amy.

As it was their injuries were substantial. All three suffered numerous broken bones. Janice recovered first, but her parents were in for a long hospital stay.

“We shared a tiny hospital room for 90 days and 90 nights,” Amy recalled. Then she grinned. “And we came out as friends.”

The severity of John’s injuries curtailed their stay in Thailand and the family returned to Pullman, where more surgery awaited. He was bedridden for months as his battered body healed. Amy took care of him and their three teenagers while her own broken bones mended.

Eventually, he resumed his teaching career at WSU and authored two textbooks: “Engineering Fluid Mechanics,” with Clayton Crowe and “Hydraulic Engineering.” Both books are still in print and used in universities here and abroad.

“Without Amy’s typing, editing and encouraging, the books may never have been completed,” he said.

For several years Amy taught ESL classes in Pullman for wives of foreign students.

Their adventures continued when John retired in 1980. They enjoyed more than 50 Elderhostel trips and visited 45 countries and all 50 states.

As they celebrate their 70th anniversary Thursday, the Robersons, both 92, marvel at the way the years have flown.

“She’s been a tremendous partner – we’re good friends,” said John. “I could not have been luckier.”

Amy smiled at him.

“I learn new things about him every day.”


War Bonds

70th anniversary: ‘I’m not quite finished’

20160622_115324-1

Today War Bonds couple Dean and Betty Ratzman appeared with me on Spokane Talks Online.

You can watch the program here.

The Ratzmans are celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary on June 23!
My favorite moment of today’s program occurred when host, Kent Adams, said to Betty, “You put up with him for 70 years! Did it take that long to train him?

Betty, 91,  quickly replied, “I’m not quite finished.”

The wit of the Greatest Generation remains undiminished by age.
How I love these people!

War Bonds

Making Pearl Harbor Personal

12744683_1047458598626100_4087895596289870672_n[1]

I knew I was in trouble when I read the sign for Ford Island and starting crying.After many years of interviewing and writing about Pearl Harbor Survivors I was for the first time,  walking where they walked.

My husband and I were celebrating our 30th anniversary on Oahu and Pearl Harbor was one of our first stops.

Chapter 11 of War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation tells the story of Warren and Betty Schott who lived on Ford Island and both survived the horrific attack.

I pictured Warren’s desperate drive to get his wife to safety. They’d spoken of shrapnel falling from the skies– of the road shredded by machine gun fire– of the terror and the noise.

We watched a short film featuring actual footage of the attack. A scene of sailors and soldiers pulling the wounded and dead from the Harbor made me gasp. That’s what Warren had done in the aftermath– it was the one thing he didn’t want to discuss with me over the course of many interviews. It was the only thing he refused to speak of with his wife and best friend of 76 years.

1913753_1047614618610498_5611130893995793483_n[1]

 

As we boarded the boat that took us to the USS Arizona, I thought of Pearl Harbor Survivor Ray Daves, who died in 2011. His friend George Maybee perished aboard the Arizona. His remains are entombed in the waters below the memorial. The throng of tourists quieted. The only sound was the snapping of the flag in the wind as I found Maybee’s name among the more than 1,000 names engraved. I wished I could tell Ray.

All of the stories, all of the interviews over the years in no way prepared me for the magnitude, the solemness of this sacred place.

Remember Pearl Harbor. Indeed, I will never forget this place, these people, their sacrifice.

Here are links some of the stories I’ve written about those who survived the Day That Will Live in Infamy.

World War ll Vets Remember

World War ll Vets Educate Students

A Sailor Remembers

Fond Memories of Ray Daves Endure

Survivors of 1941 Attack Bring History to Life

Grateful for Vet’s Story

Pearl Harbor Survivors Mark 73rd Anniversary in Spokane

The World has Lost Yet Another WWll Hero

Pearl Harbor Survivor’s Story Comes to an End

Pearl Harbor Witness: ‘It was so scary!’

 

 

War Bonds

Catching up with a sailor who became a preacher

War Bonds Loers

I had a wonderful time catching up with James and Helen Loer, today.

Their story is featured in Chapter 7, “From Sailor to Preacher.” I hadn’t seen the Loers since I interviewed them for the book, four years ago. I’m happy to report they are still married, though James assured me during the interview, “I can tell you right now this isn’t going to be romantic!”

 The Loers celebrated 67th anniversary in January.