Willamette University

If Those Trees Could Talk: Reader Responses

We received many more responses to last issue’s call for Willamette sweetheart stories than expected. Here are a few, edited for length and clarity given space constraints (you can read plenty more stories in our Online Extras section).

Remarkably, the submissions span 70 graduation years — from 1942 to 2012. A romantic tradition indeed!


Delores (Netz) Nunn ’42 and Warne Nunn ’41

“Pinning” was commonplace at Willamette for many years.

My husband and I were students in the late ’30s and early ’40s and were well ahead of the time of the Star Trees.

He was a year ahead of me, but after I came to WU we became an item. We were even pinned and then engaged the year after he graduated. He went to work for the Farm Security Administration, a federal agency, until he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942. After I graduated I spent a year at the University of Oregon Medical School, now known as OHSU, in training for a career in medical technology — which I enjoyed for many years. We were married in 1943 and I moved to Texas to be with him at the base where he was stationed. There, I had my first job as a medical technician in the laboratory in the base hospital.

After the war ended in 1945 we came back to Salem with our little Texan baby girl, and he began his career in state government. He joined Secretary of State Mark Hatfield ’43 as his executive assistant and stayed with him in that same role for the eight years Hatfield was governor. He went with Sen. Hatfield to Washington, D.C., but came back in a few months saying “it’s no place for a country boy...”

Warne served on the Willamette Board of Trustees for many years and spent several as chairman of the board. Willamette was near and dear to his heart. In 1982 he became one of the first five trustees of the Meyer Memorial Charitable Trust, which grew out of the estate of Fred Meyer.

Our son, Robert Nunn ’72, graduated from WU and became a trustee in 1991, serving as chair of the endowment committee for many years. His daughter, Hayley Nunn MBA’09, earned her MBA at Willamette, so we’re a Willamette family.

Although Warne and I did not get to have the pleasure of stealing some kisses under the Star Trees, our years at WU were a lovely experience and a great preparation for our future careers. Thank you, Willamette.

Right: “Pinning” was commonplace at Willamette for many years. Fraternity men in serious relationships with sorority women would give their chapter pin to their partner as a sign of dedication and, in many cases, intent to marry. The pin on this page (shown actual size) is from Sigma Chi and belongs to Jim Booth ‘64.


Patsy (Older) Benson ’52 and Don Benson ’52

Waller Hall's cupola

Yes, those trees have seen a lot of romance! But what about Waller Hall — especially the cupola?

It was 1949, spring. It was time to find a date for the Delta Gamma dance, and the freshman class president was Don Benson. I called the Phi Delt house and got him on the phone; I asked him to the dance. He said, “Just a minute.” I waited, and he returned to the phone and said he would love to go.

Much later he told me that he didn’t know who I was when I called and that he had to ask someone. Luckily, he was told that I was the cute redhead in his biology class.

We went to the dance and he helped me clean up, as I was on the clean-up committee. We spent many times kissing under the trees, on the step of Waller Hall, in Waller Hall and of course in the cupola of Waller Hall. We married in 1953 and had such fun for 57 years. Don died in 2011 but I still have fun remembering.


Mary (Reeh) Empey ’56 and Donald Empey ’54

Mary (Reeh) Empey ’56 and Donald Empey ’54

We met at the Welcome Freshmen Sock Hop held the first weekend Mary was on the campus. She was a freshman and I a junior. I was there with friends to check out the new girls.

By the end of the evening, we were spending a lot of time dancing together. I asked Mary if I could escort her back to Lausanne Hall. We took the long way home, walking through the park next to the State Capitol Building. We talked a great deal that night, and while we did not date seriously for some time, we both knew we had met someone special. Our first date was to a WU football game. Later that semester, I asked Mary to the Phi Delta Theta house dance and she reciprocated by asking me to the Pi Beta Phi formal. We began to see more of one another, and on Valentine’s Day, when Mary was a sophomore and I a senior, I gave her my fraternity pin as a symbol that we were engaged to be engaged. Mary still has the pin and wears it on occasion.

We both were teachers in the Salem schools before moving to Bend, Ore., where I began my career as a school administrator and we started our family. In 1991 I was awarded the Willamette Distinguished Alumni Citation for achievement in education.

We feel so fortunate to have attended Willamette. Not only did we receive a very fine education, but we met one another and established friendships that have lasted a lifetime. Some of our greatest joys over the years have been visits with classmates, attending class reunions and returning to the campus on occasion. We love each other and we love Willamette U!


Marvin Case ’65 and Anne (Kaufman) Case ’64

Marvin Case ’65 and Anne (Kaufman) Case ’64

She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.

It was 1961 and I was a freshman at Willamette. I had not picked a major yet, but I took piano lessons and spent lots of time in the Willamette music building. She was from Salem and a piano major. We met in a small practice room in the basement. Practice rooms had very small windows. I could see her in there. I bravely entered the room and introduced myself. Looking back, I have no idea where I got the nerve to do that.

We dated for a few months. We walked the Mill Stream. We had picnics. Things went well. She was a Pi Phi and I a GDI. But then she decided to date others, so she dumped me. I dated others, too, but it was not enjoyable.

Then came the Columbus Day storm. I called her home to make sure she was alright. She thanked me for worrying about her.

We got back together. I eventually majored in political science, graduating in 1965. We were married that summer...

One reason I have lived a successful life is because my wife, now of 48 years, believed in me. Her confidence in me led to more achievement in life than I could have ever had accomplished alone.

We are now 70 years old. We have lived through life’s many changes. She is still beautiful. And we still play the piano.


Carolyn (Miller) Williams ’59 and Don Williams ’59

Don had to take four girls out for coffee and kiss them all goodnight — all in one hour. I was number four...

I met Don Williams in 1955 at a sock hop during freshman orientation week, when he asked me to dance. We chatted mostly about fraternities and sororities, as he had just pledged Beta and I was hoping for a bid later in the evening from Delta Gamma. (It turns out that his sister, Patsy Williams ’57, was a DG and my brother, Don Miller ’57, was a Beta.)

All through our freshman year and into our sophomore year, I encouraged my friends to invite Don to various dances (but I was always interested in someone else!). “He’s a great guy,” I’d say. “You’ll have a fun time.”

Then came Glee our sophomore year, and we found ourselves placed next to each other in formation. Being side-by-side at 6 a.m., noon, 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. for a week, we became pretty good friends. On Friday night before the performance, when final Glee bets were being made, Don asked if I’d help him pay off a bet if our class lost — a pretty good bet in itself as the class of ’59 was well known for being just good enough not to finish last! And the bet was with Bob Taylor ’58, whose class was well known for finishing first.

On Blue Monday, the time came to pay off the bet. Don had to take four girls out for coffee and kiss them all goodnight — all in one hour. I was number four, and by that time the car hop at the A&W was used to seeing Don with a different girl as he ordered “the usual” every 15 minutes.

That week spent together, and a goodnight kiss on the front porch of the DG house, led to a date a few months later and the rest, as they say, is history. We just celebrated our 52nd wedding anniversary.


Ben Bryant ’09 and Stephanie Wong ’09

Ben Bryant ’09 and Stephanie Wong ’09

During our sophomore year at Willamette, Stephanie was conducting an experimental study on the effects of caffeine as part of a course on human physiology. While not part of the class, I was asked by two good friends of mine to be a test subject. At the time, I did not know their third lab partner (Stephanie), and I dreaded the first day of the study because I didn’t like coffee.

Then, suddenly, my feelings about participating changed as Stephanie entered the room. She was quiet, but had the most lovable and kind demeanor. She also walked around with a distinct bounce in her step that symbolized her happy-go-lucky attitude. From that point onward, I always looked forward to my weekly grande latte served by Stephanie — even if it had to be followed by a battery of tests!


Laura (Steege) Manthey ’71 and George Manthey ’71

October 1967. Freshman year. Weekly dinner exchange between female and male freshmen dorms.

There were two freshman girls’ dorms and two boys’ at opposite ends of the campus. On Sundays we’d do exchanges where half the girls from a dorm would switch with half the boys in a dorm. On Oct. 8, 1967, half the Doney girls went to Matthews. There, I met George for the first time, though I had heard about him and was told I’d like him. Back in those days there were limited and strict rules about the mixing of sexes, so it was a rather big deal to go to these dinners. We met in the entry. We thought our food in the girls’ dorms was pretty bad, but the dinner in the boys’ dorms was worse and the manners distinctly lacking. I remember one guy in particular who wolfed down a remarkable quantity of mashed potatoes, never once closing his mouth.

By the time we were seniors and married and living in a little house on Broadway, campus life had changed considerably. And for the better, I might add.

We just celebrated our 43rd anniversary.


Madeleine (Chapman)Cushman ’12 and Colin Cushman ’12

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Colin and I both participated in Jump Start freshman orientation programs; he was in Steppin’ Out and I was in NSOCO. We met briefly during a whirlwind introduction session between groups. However, we officially met one another in our College Colloquium class.

Honestly, I thought he was really weird, but it didn’t take long for him to change my mind. By October of freshman year, he had stolen my heart with a little enthusiasm (and skill) when he played one of the pianos in my residence hall, Lee House. I was gone, falling hard within minutes. As I was in the mindset that I did not want to date at all my freshman year, I fought hard against our relationship. But I was too in love with him, and he was too perfect for me. From the very beginning, our friends referred to us as “Madi and Colin” without ever separating the two (even during our few months separated!). It was clear to me by the end of the first year: I was meant to marry this man.

A year later, we were engaged and another year later we were married. Thank you, Willamette, for bringing us together so early in our college careers; you shaped our experience and the rest of our lives.


Kevin Zerzan ’89, MAT’90 and Karen (Erskine)Zerzan ’90, MAT’91

Kevin Zerzan ’89, MAT ’90 and Karen (Erskine) Zerzan ’90, MAT ’91

Karen Erskine was a Pi Phi and also a Delt Princess. I was a new Delta Tau Delta pledge and soon to be a member. I was sitting in the Delt dining area on a sunny fall day when I looked outside and saw the most beautiful woman I had ever seen walk into our fraternity.

It was like everything was in slow motion as the wind blew through her hair and the sunlight sparkled around her. I believe I heard the music and lyrics to “Dream Weaver” as she walked in. I had never experienced a feeling like that before, so I quickly ran through the shared kitchen between DTD and Matthews (or was it Belknap?) and hid in their dining area. Later that fall, my roommate, Rick Harder ’91, set the two of us up on a date and we went to our Halloween function together. Three months later we were engaged. We were married in Cone Chapel in 1990, have three wonderful children, and have been happily married ever since.


Charles Zerzan ’48 and Joan (Kathan) Zerzan ’48

(As told by Kevin and Karen Zerzan)

Joan Kathan was an Alpha Chi and Charles Zerzan was a Phi Delt after World War II. There was some reason why they had to go up into the dark attic in Waller Hall. Joan was a country girl from Rogue River, Ore., on a music scholarship, and Charles had just returned from Burma, where he was a captain in charge of an anti-aircraft unit. Joan was very impressed by this “worldly” (her words) man and pretended to be scared as they ascended the stairs into the dark attic so that he would hold her hand.

After Charles graduated, he left to attend medical school at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis. Joan left Willamette one term before graduation to marry and be with Charles. In their 60 years of marriage, they had 12 children, 33 grandchildren and many greatgrandchildren.


Jesse Freeby ’83 and Rose (Zerzan) Freeby ’83, JD’87

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I was off campus at a birthday party with my Hawaiian brothers. We were … studying. This girl caught my eye and I was watching her. She backed into me, said “excuse me,” and then she walked away. I did research — I found out it was her 19th birthday and the party was for her. I also found out that she had just changed her housing and had moved upstairs from me in my dorm, Belknap. (What were the chances? She was my new neighbor — clearly a welcome was in order!)

I made sure I was in the car that night on the ride back to campus. Although we were all securely seat-belted and facing forward safely — as all vehicle passengers should be — if there was a shortage of seatbelts, I might have made sure that she was sitting on my lap for the ride back and that I was the seatbelt.

Then I made sure every day thereafter to go upstairs, stand in her doorway and ask her, “Do you want to play cribbage?” I pretended I did not hear her say, “Go away and quit bothering me,” “I don’t know how to play cribbage” and “I am studying; why aren’t you?”

Needless to say, she could play cribbage by the end of the semester. She graduated in three years, joining my class and walking at graduation with me. We married during her second year of law school. The ceremony was at St. Joseph’s on Sept. 12, 1985 (but she went to her tax class before the ceremony).


For more stories, check out our Online Extras.