Many years ago, an over-filled pool during swimming lessons caused problems for Karen Howe’s 5-year-old brother.
“This nice, tall boy kept fishing my brother out of the pool,” she recalled. “My brother kept going under, but this boy fished him out.”
Years passed and then she saw that boy again at a middle school basketball game.
She watched him play and told her friend, “That’s the skinniest kid I’ve ever seen.”
That skinny kid was Doug Pottratz, and in 1963 he showed up in her sophomore English class at Central Valley High School.
When she asked a friend for the name of the tall kid who sat up front, her friend said, “That’s Doug, but he has a girlfriend.”
Undaunted, Karen replied, “A girl can dream, can’t she?”
She didn’t have to dream for long.
Doug had noticed her, too, and they got to know each other at high school mixers.
“I was always interested in girls who were interested in me,” he said, grinning.
They dated throughout high school attending football games and dances, even though Doug’s basketball coach frowned on such activities.
“Coach didn’t want us dating,” recalled Doug. “He said it robbed us of our energy.”
An avid sports enthusiast, Karen loved watching him on the court, and off the court, too.
“He played rhythm guitar in ‘The Cruisers,’ a rock ’n’ roll band,” said Karen. “I was a groupie.”
After graduating from Central Valley in 1966, they both attended Western Washington University in Bellingham.
By their junior year, they knew they’d be married and had looked at engagement rings, but Doug still managed to surprise Karen with his proposal.
“I took her to Vancouver, B.C., and hid the ring in the back seat,” he said. “Then I had her look for it.”
They graduated in 1970; Doug with a chemistry degree and Karen with an education degree.
“Getting drafted was a real possibility, so I joined the Army Reserve, and served six years,” Doug said.
On Aug. 8, 1970, the coupled married in Spokane Valley, and returned to Vancouver for their honeymoon.
“We stayed at a campground and I pitched my dad’s World War II pup tent,” said Doug. “Nothing but the best.”
“It was so fun.”
It was until they ran out of cash .
“I took $200 out of the bank, and we thought that was a lot of money,” Doug said.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough, but a department store saved the day by cashing a check for them.
Back in Spokane, Karen had been hired by Spokane Public Schools before she even graduated.
She embarked on a 40-year career in education, and spent all of those years teaching at Stevens Elementary.
“I taught fourth and fifth grades and coached all sports offered in elementary school,” she said.
Doug took a job as a chemist/inspector at Air Pollution Control, and then moved to Washington Water Power Co. (Avista) where he enjoyed a 32-year career .
The couple delighted in the births of their two children: Mike born in 1975 and Kathy in 1977.
Their love of athletics made teamwork a natural part of their marriage.
Karen, a Bloomsday medalist and avid runner, completed 13 marathons and several triathlons.
“I stayed and watched the kids while she ran,” Doug said.
While he coached and supported their son’s Odyssey of the Mind team from sixth through 12th grades, Karen ferried their daughter to myriad dance lessons.
“We’ve always shared duties with the kids, and he’s always helped out at home,” she said.
They also continued their own educations. Karen earned a master’s degree from Whitworth, and Doug earned a master’s from WSU.
A shared love of the water led them to take up scuba diving.
“We’re both certified scuba divers,” Karen. “We had to give it up when the kids got older. Now we snorkel, that’s how we plan our vacations – where can we snorkel?”
Doug credits the success of their marriage to the fact they have hobbies they enjoy pursuing separately, as well as activities they like to do together.
In fact, they both retired on the same day, July 1, 2010.
“That was exciting,” Karen said, rolling her eyes. “It’s a good thing we love each other.”
As they adjusted to retirement, they found pleasure in gardening on their 2 acres in Veradale. They also use their gardening skills at their church, working in the historical orchard behind the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection.
A 50-year union doesn’t come without some bumps along the way.
“Obviously, we’ve had our ups and downs,” said Doug. “We’ve been battling her cancer for many years.”
“In 2013, I was diagnosed with carcinoid cancer, and in 2015, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ve had multiple surgeries, and Doug’s been by my side the whole time.”
That’s why her advice to other couples centers on thankfulness.
“You need to look at your spouse with gratitude for how they make your life better,” she said.
Alas, COVID-19 made their plans to celebrate their 50th anniversary at a beach house in Hawaii with their children and grandchildren impossible, but they’re looking forward to rescheduling the trip.
When asked what he appreciates about his wife, Doug asked, “Besides being beautiful?”
Then he smiled.
“She’s always supported me – she’s always kind of been my conscious.”
As for Karen, she’s glad the tall, lanky kid, from sophomore English class became her dream come true.
“I’ve always thought I was the luckiest girl to find someone like him. He was the best boyfriend I ever had,” she said. “And he still is.”
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