Eastern Washington University dedicated the Walter and Myrtle Powers Reading Room in the former Hargraves Library May 26, . The tale behind that dedication involves a globe-spanning love story.
Walt and Myrt Powers met 65 years ago at Marine Corps Air Station Santa Barbara in California. She was a Marine dietitian working in the dispensary and he was a Navy surgical technician. “I thought she was the most beautiful Marine I’d ever seen,” said Walt.
Myrt, 21, had been teaching school in Oregon when World War II began. “I had these kids coming in saying, ‘My daddy’s going to war and I don’t know if he’s going to be killed.’ ”
From their home overlooking EWU’s famed red turf, she shook her head. “I couldn’t take it. I joined the Marines in 1943 – I wanted to take care of my students’ dads.”
However, she ended up teaching Marines about airplane maintenance. Walt laughed. “When they found out she didn’t know the difference between a spark plug and a generator, they moved her to the dispensary.”
Walt lived in Texas and had been drafted into the Navy. He left home on Christmas Day, 1943. He first glimpsed Myrt at a reception following a change of command ceremony at the base. She was carrying a large decorated cake. “Excuse me,” she said.
As he stood aside to let her pass, Walt was instantly smitten. He tracked her down the next day and asked her to go on a bike ride on Sunday. When she told him she’d be happy to but only after she went to church, he knew he’d found a “good” girl. He also knew this because he’d used his job to check her health records. He grinned at the memory. “She was clean!”
Their first date was memorable. In his enthusiasm to get closer to Myrt, Walt crashed his bicycle into hers. Undaunted, he used the opportunity to show off his expertise. He took her to the clinic to treat her scrapes. “I used my skill to bandage her arm,” he recalled. “And when I got to her knee, I held her leg!”
A bold move indeed, for 1945. Walt worried that she wouldn’t go out with him again after the bicycle mishap, but Myrt liked him and soon they were a couple. However, within a few months Walt shipped out to Guam. “I became part of the occupation force for Japan and spent time in China, as well.”
For nine months their only connection came through the mail, but in this case, absence truly did make the heart grow fonder. “We kind of fell in love through letters,” Walt said.
Myrt nodded. “I saved all 87 of his letters.” She paused and shot him a look. “But he pitched mine.”
Still, Walt thought of her constantly, especially when he earned enough points to get out of the Navy. “I was so much in love with her; I wanted to see her immediately.”
Instead of getting discharged back to Texas, he asked the yeoman to print up orders for Oregon, where Myrt had returned to finish college after completing her military service.
During the long journey to Oregon, Walt worried. He wondered, “Is she going to kiss me the same way she did when I left? Has she found another boyfriend?”
When Walt arrived at the train station at 6 a.m. in May 1946, he found Myrt waiting. “She was wearing a beautiful blue suit and hat, and I gave her a kiss like you do when you’re returning from war …” He paused and smiled across the room at Myrt. “All doubts were immediately gone.”
He proposed before he left for Texas to see his family, and later sent her an engagement ring in the mail. “I paid $287 for it at Zales – I still have the receipt.”
Myrt had signed a contract to teach school in Eugene, and Walt resumed his education at Baylor University. But he couldn’t stand the separation, so he persuaded her to join him at Baylor to get her master’s degree.
By December 1946, their friends were tired of waiting for a wedding. “We were both working at a church, so we asked the pastor to marry us,” Walt said. And he did that very day, Dec. 13, 1946. Their friends sprang for a night at a hotel and the next day they got up and went to class.
The couple found a room to rent with kitchen privileges and Myrt earned her master’s. When she received a lucrative job offer to teach in McMinnville, Ore., Walt transferred to Linfield College and they returned to Oregon.
In November 1948, their son Wally was born and when Walt graduated with a chemistry degree, he planned to work as a chemist. That changed when he got a job as a substitute teacher and fell in love with education. The family moved to Colorado where Walt earned his master’s degree.
Their family grew with the arrival of Jim in 1951, followed by Thomas in 1954. Walt became a high school principal and continued his schooling at night, eventually receiving his doctorate.
In 1954, Walt joined the faculty at EWU as assistant professor of psychology and education. He stayed for more than 40 years.
Myrt taught at a nearby grade school and a lady they called Grandma Fox cared for their three young sons.
In 1957, they built their home just two blocks from the college campus. Since then the university has grown up around the house and the five others that were built at the same time. Now, if they want to catch an Eagles’ football game, they just walk to the edge of their backyard.
Walt’s expertise in high school counseling brought the family many opportunities. From 1961-1962 they lived in Korea where Walt worked as an adviser to the minister of education. Their sons relished the adventure of living overseas.
And in 1966, the adventure continued when Walt was invited to establish a counselor training program at Keele University in England.
The couple have traveled the world both for work and pleasure, and currently spend the winter in Hawaii.
Sadly, they’ve survived two of their sons. Wally died six years ago from multiple sclerosis and Jim had a heart attack and died two years ago. The couple feels fortunate that their son Tom and his four children live nearby.
Walt and Myrt Powers have spent their lives educating others, and their 65-year union offers them yet another educational platform. “We kiss every night and we laugh at each other a lot,” said Walt. “She lives in the present, not the future.”
Myrt laughed. “Or the past!”
They’ve learned to give each other their own space and say they rarely argue. Perhaps that’s due to a unique strategy. “Every two years, I’m allowed to tell him to shut up,” Myrt said. “And I can say it as loudly and clearly as I wish!”
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