War Bonds

A love that encompassed 600+ boys

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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.”

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War Bonds

Seizing serendipity: WWII vet publishes novel

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I was privileged to interview Stan Parks, 92, for this Saturday feature in the Spokesman Review.

Stan Parks, 92, has been many things: sailor, dentist, world traveler, husband, father, grandfather, photographer, sculptor, civic leader. Recently, he added a new title to his resume: author.

In March he published his first novel, “Jakob’s Ladies,” through Gray Dog Press.

Tackling new projects is second nature to Parks, who also serves as president of the Spokane Downtown Kiwanis Club.

“I retired in 1982,” he said. Then he grinned. “But I didn’t really retire.”

 “Serendipity” is a word he uses often to describe the many opportunities he’s been able to embrace during his lifetime.

Born and raised in Chicago, Parks left his studies at Loyola University to join the Navy in 1942.

“Well, they let me finish my year at Loyola because I was part of the V-12 program,” he said.

The V-12 program was designed to supplement the force of commissioned officers in the U.S. Navy during WWII.

The newly commissioned lieutenant junior grade was assigned to the USS LST-53, a tank landing ship, recently returned from the invasion of Normandy. Parks and his crew and were sent to the Pacific theater.

“When the war ended we were given the job of returning occupied troops to Japan,” he recalled. “I saw quite a bit of Japan. We picked up Japanese from outlying islands and brought them home so they could rebuild the country.”

After the war, he resumed his studies at Loyola. One evening a friend invited Parks to join him and his wife for dinner. Unbeknownst to Parks, he wasn’t the only guest.

“Serendipity,” he said, smiling. “I chatted with my friend for awhile and then his wife called us into dinner. I walked into the dining room and saw this beautiful young lady. Her name was Eleanor, but I called her Norie.”

More than six decades have passed since that fateful meeting, but his eyes still light up at the mention of her name.

“We married on Dec. 28, 1947,” he said.

They settled in Aurora where Parks established a thriving dental practice and where they raised their four children.

In 1978, he visited Guatemala, volunteering his time to provide dental services at a medical mission run by the Benedictines. The trip proved eye-opening for Parks, who mostly cared for the students at the mission school.

“They had absolutely nothing,” he said. “No dental care at all.”

He knew he’d have to return, which he did almost every year until 2004. With other dentists, he established a modern dental clinic, complete with everything they’d need to care for patients.

“The office is still there,” said Parks. “And dentists still go.”

When asked why he returned to Guatemala so many times he replied, “The satisfaction of helping those people. You can’t believe how little they had.”

After 32 years, Parks retired and he and Norie moved to Fort Meyers, Florida. His retirement from dentistry allowed him to pursue other passions.

“I did a lot of acting,” he said. “My wife and I joined the Peninsula Players. I really enjoyed it. My wife was a great actress.”

And there were the boats. The Norie 1, 2 and 3.

“They got bigger each time,” Parks said, laughing. “We spent a lot of time in the Bahamas, living on the boat.”

When their son moved to Spokane, Parks and his wife enjoyed visiting the area so much, they purchased a condo so they could spend more time here.

He’s always had an artist’s eye; framed photographs he’s taken throughout the years line the walls of his South Hill home. But he also likes to work with his hands, so when an opportunity to take a sculpting class from Sister Paula Turnbull came, he seized it.

“Talk about serendipity,” he said, pointing to several busts that he created under her tutelage.

One of those pieces is a bas relief featuring the face of his beloved Norie, who died five years ago.

Tears fill his eyes when he says her name.

“We were married 63 years. She was fabulous. As gorgeous as she was physically, she was that way on the inside, too. It’s hard without her.”

After her death, he moved to Spokane permanently to be near his son.

He went to see Turnbull upon his return to find out if she was offering more classes.

“She said she was too busy to teach, but she said I could work in her studio,” said Parks. “I loved it.”

When he heard about a writing class at the Sinto Senior Activity Center he decided to take it. He’d already penned his memoir.

“Well, it’s not really finished,” he said.

But he wanted to try his hand at fiction.

“If you don’t know how to do something, you can learn! It sharpens your mind.”

With encouragement from his writing group, he wrote “Jakob’s Ladies,” a historical novel set in 1895, about a dentist who goes out west to Sheridan, Wyoming, to launch his practice.

Parks did quite a bit of research, even traveling to Sheridan.

“I was in love with my characters. When one of them died – that was the hardest part to write.”

The book is dedicated to Norie, “My lady, my first mate, my only mate.”

He’s pondering a sequel, but he has plenty to keep him busy. He’s always been part of civic groups, so his leadership of the Downtown Kiwanis is a good fit.

“I can’t become a philanthropist and give away a fortune, but I can join a club like Kiwanis and give away pretty big chunks of money.”

At 92, he’s not resting on any laurels.

“There’s so much to be done and so many opportunities to do it,” said Parks. “I need 100 more years to do all the things I want to do.”