In fall 1944, Fred Carter, an enlistee in the Royal Air Force stationed at a base in Calgary, Alberta, spent his leave time in Spokane. Two women, housemates in their 50s, opened their home to Carter and another airman.
Carter is now 85. He lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland, in Canada. He battled colon cancer in 2008, and more colon troubles put him in the hospital in January. Time may or may not be running short for Carter, but he feels some urgency in telling this story of extreme hospitality. Memorial Day weekend seemed the ideal time to do so.
“They were so welcoming,” Carter said of the two Spokane women. “I just can’t get over it.”
Nine days in October
Carter was 18 when he arrived at the Calgary airbase for training. Newfoundland, once Great Britain’s oldest overseas colony, would not become part of Canada until 1949. So Carter enlisted in the Royal Air Force with eight of his St. John’s buddies. All survived World War II, but now, as Carter pointed out, “I am the only one left alive.”
A notice posted at the base’s YMCA explained that Spokane would host airmen during an upcoming leave.
“There were six airmen selected – three Australians, two New Zealanders and me from Newfoundland,” Carter said in a letter he sent to The Spokesman-Review, hoping to learn more about the two women.
“Upon arrival (in) Spokane, we were met at the bus depot by a group of friendly and cordial people who divided us up in pairs. I was paired with Charlie Abbott from Perth, Australia.”
Two women, Eva and Ada, met the two men and took them to the home they shared on Spokane’s South Hill.
“They told me what their surnames were but, unfortunately, I placed them in a secret place, especially in my heart, but now cannot remember where.”
“Evada” – as everyone called the women – entertained Carter and Abbott “like royalty,” Carter wrote.
Both women worked, so each morning they left instructions for breakfast and lunch. Carter and Abbott took long walks each day and then met up with Evada for dinner. One night, they were joined by two young women, Jean Williams and Irene McDermott.
Carter remembered belly-filling meals, which means Evada used their wartime ration cards – for butter, sugar and coffee – to feed two young men they would likely never see again.
The six airmen on leave here also took a group excursion to Lake Coeur d’Alene, and their photo showed up in The Spokesman-Review at the Vera Community Church’s annual smorgasbord.
“It was good for us to spend time away from the rigid base discipline, and it gave us a new perspective on how people showed their appreciation,” Carter said.
After the visit, Evada sent photos of their Spokane adventures to Carter – and his family. “My mother and father were overwhelmed by their thoughtfulness,” he said.
Christmas letters followed, and then Carter lost touch with Evada.
“It’s amazing how these exceptional ladies gave us the freedom of their home,” he said. “Such trusting people would be hard to find now.”
Evada: Who were they?
Luckily, Carter remembered Evada’s address on South Garfield Street, near 29th Avenue and Grand Boulevard. A Polk Directory revealed that Eva Hardin and Ada Schaefer lived at the address in 1944. And luckier still, Hardin has her own clip file in The Spokesman-Review library, because she was the first woman ever appointed clerk of the U.S. District Court here, one of only three women federal court clerks in the country at the time.
A May 22, 1928, Spokane Daily Chronicle story reported that “federal building employees literally stormed the clerk’s office when they learned of the appointment and congratulations poured in from all sides. Miss Hardin is one of the most popular of federal employees, her coworkers said, and her courtesy and tact in handling the public was a big factor in winning her the position.”
Schaefer didn’t have her own clip file, though she was mentioned in some stories about Hardin. In Hardin’s obituary in March 1975, for instance, the newspaper reported: “For years, she and her friend, Ada Schaefer, who died in 1962, lived in the home on South Garfield which had been built in the middle 30s by a woman contractor.”
Neither woman left behind spouses or children, so finding people now who knew them proved challenging. Hardin’s obituary mentioned she was a member of Manito Presbyterian Church. Some calls to older church members finally netted Tom and Muriel Mableson, of Spokane, who met Evada in 1954 at the old Coliseum. The women were big hockey fans; Hardin’s obituary mentioned that she’d not missed a hockey game in 30 years in Spokane.
Tom Mableson was a well-known announcer for the Spokane Flyers and the Spokane Jets, hockey teams that played here at varying times from the late 1940s through the ’70s.
Schaefer worked for the Old National Bank at one time, Mableson said. Both were career women in an era when many women were not. They were good friends, but nothing more, Mableson said.
Muriel Mableson said: “I do remember someone saying that Ada was engaged at one time.”
Muriel Mableson believes the women’s wartime hospitality “was their way of serving the country.”
The Mablesons don’t know what Schaefer died of, but they know about Hardin’s final years. In the early 1970s, she and her sister went grocery shopping and parked in the garage underneath the house when they returned. They closed the garage door but forgot to turn off the car’s engine.
Carbon monoxide wafted through the house, undetected. Both women survived but suffered with health problems thereafter. Hardin died in a nursing home.
The Mablesons, who helped organize Hardin’s belongings after she died, found hundreds of photos of servicemen from around the world. And dozens of letters.
Tom Mableson said: “A lot of the guys who wrote her were killed in the war.”
The 9/11 payback
World War II ended just as Carter’s military training finished. He eventually moved back to St. John’s, married and worked for Canadian National Telegraph until his retirement in 1982.
His wife of nearly 50 years, Margaret, died in 1997. The couple raised eight children together. Carter’s grown children, and his 22 grandchildren, are now “scattered from (St. John’s) to British Columbia.”
He spends his days quietly now. Listens to the news on the radio. Goes to doctor’s appointments. Carter wrote his life story for a son who requested it, 300 pages of memories that included his Spokane visit.
Recently, Carter – who sent photos of himself in uniform in Spokane at age 18 – had his photo taken at Wal-Mart in St. John’s. He’s still dapper at 85. He was so far away from home in the photos taken long ago in Spokane. St. John’s is the easternmost point in North America. It can still take regular mail two weeks to travel there from Spokane.
Carter proudly tells the story of what happened in his hometown, and throughout Newfoundland, on Sept. 11, 2001.
About 75 airplanes headed to the United States from overseas landed there, because all U.S. air traffic was grounded after the terrorist attacks. The stranded air passengers were welcomed into homes.
“They were all taken care of,” he said.
Now, in his later years, Carter has undertaken the task of examining how various experiences fit into the overarching narrative of his life. It’s an important task for all who hope to age well. Where do you put the piercing regrets? Huge sorrows? How do you explain inexplicable grace? Extreme kindness?
Carter holds onto his extreme kindness stories, much longer than his sorrows and regrets.
He still feels gratitude for Spokane. And for Evada, for welcoming him into their home 68 years ago – and into his heart forever.