Chuck Anderton arrived in Panama City, Florida, in the summer of 1971 to continue his Air Force training. Forty-eight hours after setting foot in town, he met the love of his life.
“I saw him first,” recalled Evelyn Anderton. “My girlfriend had met him the night before and told me I had to meet him. We were at a little club called Alvin’s. My friend told me, ‘You take the one on the left and I’ll take the one on the right.’ ”
In their South Hill living room, Evelyn laughed. “My girlfriend’s guy turned out to be a dud, but I hit the jackpot!”
Chuck was enamored with the recent high school graduate, and when she told him she had an 11 o’clock curfew, he volunteered to walk her home.
“It was hot. There were a lot of mosquitoes biting, so I invited him in,” Evelyn said.
Her mother was cordial to Chuck, but the minute he walked out the door, he heard exactly what she thought of her daughter inviting a stranger into their home at that late hour.
“Mama was not happy!” Evelyn said.
But she had plenty of time to get happy.
“For 28 days straight, he came to my house,” Evelyn said.
“Well, she was the only one I knew in town,” Chuck said.
After that first meeting, Evelyn called her friend and said, “Gayle, that’s my husband. I don’t know how, but he’s going to be my husband.”
Gayle replied, “Girl. You’re crazy. You just met him!”
Chuck, 20, had grown up in Greenville, North Carolina, and joined the Air Force shortly after high school. It proved to be a wise choice because while he was in basic training his draft number came up.
He spent 28 days falling in love with Evelyn, but then received orders for Iceland. He said goodbye to his sweetheart and headed out into one of the grimmest assignments he’d have in his 20-year military career.
“I was one of 17 black guys there,” he recalled. “I’d experienced prejudice and discrimination growing up, but I didn’t think I’d experience it in the military.”
It was one thing to deal with Icelanders swerving off the road at the sight of a black man, but quite another to be questioned by military personnel every time he left the base.
“We’d go to a hotel in Reykjavik for dinner and shore patrol would come up and harass us, asking to see a room key or a pass,” Chuck said. “After six months, I couldn’t take it anymore and took my leave.”
He visited his mother and wrote a letter to his congressman explaining what he and the other black airmen were going through. Then he went to Panama City to see Evelyn.
“She’d been writing to me every day,” he said. “She’d send me the albums I wanted.”
With two weeks of leave left, he told her, “I just don’t want to leave without you being Mrs. Anderton.”
“He thought somebody might steal me before he got back,” said Evelyn. “Mom wanted a big, fancy to-do,”
But on May 6, 1972, they went to a justice of the peace and were married.
They did have a reception at her mom’s house and had a short time together, before he had to return to Iceland.
“We never did have a honeymoon,” Evelyn said.
Things didn’t improve for Chuck in Iceland.
“The situation wasn’t any better, but I felt better because I had my wife waiting for me.”
When his tour of duty was up, they reunited and were soon sent to England.
“I’d never been out of Florida,” said Evelyn. “England was misty, damp and rainy, but we enjoyed it.”
They had three children, son Stacey and daughters Tiffinee and Tia, and lived in locales from Japan to Las Vegas, before the Air Force sent them to Fairchild in 1984.
“I never thought we’d stay here,” Chuck said.
But when he retired in 1989, he knew Boeing was opening a plant in Airway Heights.
“I decided to give it a year,” he said.
Twenty-seven years later, he’s still working for what is now Triumph Composite Systems.
Both say Spokane schools were great for their kids, but there was another equally compelling reason for them to stay.
“You can live any place you want to in Spokane, unlike other places where you’re relegated to certain areas of town,” Chuck said.
They have faced challenges, though. Evelyn was diagnosed with a congenital kidney defect and spent more than eight years on dialysis before receiving a kidney transplant in 2012.
Even that didn’t slow them down. They love to travel and have family across the U.S.
“We didn’t let dialysis dictate our lives,” said Chuck.
Their most memorable trip was to Washington, D.C., to attend Barack Obama’s first inauguration. Evelyn eagerly shares her scrapbook of that unforgettable day.
“It was freezing cold,” she said. “But after all Chuck had done serving his country – to be at the inauguration – it was unreal. I told my grandson he’d be the first black president, but then I had to tell him someone else took his job.”
As their 45th anniversary approaches in May, the Andertons were thoughtful about what has made their marriage successful.
Chuck, 66, said, “I can’t understand why people don’t put more effort into it (marriage). It’s like they have some free pass to move into another relationship instead of asking themselves, ‘What can we do better?’ ”
He put his hand on his wife’s knee. “She keeps me straight. She’s someone I can lean on. I love her to death.”
Evelyn, 63, smiled, “He cares more for me than anything I can imagine. He will always sacrifice for me.”