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Monday, May 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Love story: Doellefelds’ life together full of hugs; quitting was never an option

Pat and Walt Doellefeld pose for a photo in their Spokane Valley, Wash., home on Feb. 5, 2019. The couple wed in 1966, and Walt Doellefeld keeps track of how long they’ve been married by counting Super Bowls since the inaugural game in 1967. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
Pat and Walt Doellefeld pose for a photo in their Spokane Valley, Wash., home on Feb. 5, 2019. The couple wed in 1966, and Walt Doellefeld keeps track of how long they’ve been married by counting Super Bowls since the inaugural game in 1967. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

Walt Doellefeld’s life began in 1942 in Nazi Germany. His father was a payroll officer with the Wehrmacht assigned to Gen. Erwin Rommel’s army in Africa.

Shortly after Walt’s birth, his father was captured by American forces and interred in a POW camp, first in Texas and then in Arizona. He spent his time in confinement learning English and American bookkeeping. Prison guards gave him an opportunity to practice English and helped him with his plans to immigrate to the U.S. after his release.

“My father returned home in 1947 to a family of two, soon to be three, children, a destroyed country and scarce food supplies,” recalled Walt.

It took several years to accumulate the necessary money, sponsorships, visas and travel documents, but in 1950, Walt and his family set sail aboard the USS Europa. He celebrated his eighth birthday aboard ship and still remembers the abundance of food – it was overwhelming for a family used to meager food rations.

The family eventually settled in Tacoma, and in 1956 they all became naturalized citizens. They attended Calvary Baptist Church and became friendly with the Shadle family.

Walt, then 15, noticed Pat Shadle, 10, in particular.

“She was the oldest of four,” he said. “I remember going to their house.”

Pat laughed.

“He noticed me more than I noticed him,” she said.

That would change but not for many years.

After graduation, Walt joined the Army and was stationed in Verdun, France. He was able to travel to Germany and even spent Christmas with his aunts.

“They were building the Berlin Wall when I was there, so there was an uncle I wasn’t able to visit,” he said.

When he returned to Tacoma, he took a job with Boeing and resumed attending church.

“All the girls noticed him,” Pat said. “He’d grown up!”

And so had she – Pat was now a high school senior.

“I saw her in the choir,” Walt said. “So, I joined the choir.”

In fact, he sang in the bass section with Pat’s father, and they quickly struck up a friendship.

Pat collected the music books after choir practice, and Walt saw an opportunity.

“I decided she needed help,” he said, grinning.

After collecting the books, he offered to drive her home. Singing can stimulate your appetite, so they stopped for pie and coffee. Their after-choir outings quickly turned into dates.

“I think I was set on her from the get-go,” Walt said.

He wasn’t alone in his feelings.

“I knew pretty much right away there was this connection,” Pat said.

Their courtship continued as Pat studied for a year at Central Washington University, and in June 1966, Walt pulled his Volkswagen Beetle to the side of the road and proposed.

He smiled.

“My mother was pushing me to get married. She really liked Pat. She said, ‘Marry this girl. She’s the right one!’ ”

Pat agreed.

“I went home and asked my mom how quickly we could plan a wedding,” she said.

Pretty quickly, as it turned out. The couple were married Aug. 5 and spent their honeymoon in a tiny cabin at Cannon Beach, Oregon.

Walt had purchased a house and managed the $69 per month house payments by working at Boeing. He juggled his job with attending night classes, first at Highline Community College and then at the University of Washington, where he graduated in 1971.

“Boeing was so accommodating – I can’t give them enough credit,” he said.

In 1972, their daughter Michelle was born. Walt was now working as a recruiter for Acme Personnel Service, and in 1974 the company transferred them to Spokane.

Their son, Eric, completed their family in 1975.

The Doellefelds say one of the smartest things they ever did was buy a boat when their children were in grade school. Most weekends, they’d head out to Beauty Bay on Lake Coeur d’Alene.

“We made some great memories with our kids,” Pat said.

The couple had purchased the Acme Spokane franchise in 1983 and sold it in 1990. By then Walt was ready for a new adventure, and he found it at Stateline Speedway. He and his brother, Joe, purchased the Speedway in 1991.

Pat laughed.

“We thought he was crazy,” she said. “It seemed so unlike him!”

Nevertheless, she and the children worked alongside him, selling concessions and working the front gate.

During the offseason, Walt worked for Hewlett-Packard and Pat worked for Safeco Insurance for 21 years.

In 2011, they sold the racetrack and embraced retirement. Pat had already caught the quilting bug and had joined a local quilting group.

“We’ve made and donated over 1,200 quilts in 10 years,” she said.

After 52 years of marriage, they’re still dating.

“We try to have a date day once a week,” said Walt, 76.

They both enjoy travel and “treasure hunting” at area thrift shops. In addition, their shared faith has strengthened their bond.

“When we married we agreed God first, marriage second,” said Pat, 72. “We said we’d avoid the quitting option, and we told our kids they’d never have to worry about us getting divorced.”

Walt nodded, adding, “She’s my best friend, and she always has been.”

Then he grinned.

“We do a lot of hugging.”

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