Editor’s note: Writer and Edmonds resident Bill Morton, Ed.D., submitted this story about his marriage of 28 years to his sweetheart, JoAnn Stevenson.
Love and adventure characterize our stories that occurred through traveling and teaching in five foreign countries through Rotary International. Sponsored by Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace Rotary clubs, JoAnn and I designed literacy-related programs for adults and children in Kenya, Thailand, Brazil, South Africa and Peru. Challenges of living in foreign countries with different cultures for three months at a time brought us closer together, in fact, at times, not more than 20 feet apart, 24/7. Our personal maxim, “I Attract That Which Occurs,” kept our thinking and relationship together in a positive perspective as we reached out to serve others.
The following stories will share the challenges, geography, culture and individual differences of people we met wherever we found ourselves. Space limitations in these forthcoming blogs requires only short excerpts of longer stories. These will eventually become a memoir designed especially to share JoAnn’s extraordinary life as a teacher, skilled traveler, wife, mother, grand, great and great-great grandmother who dedicated her life to helping others. It was my good fortune to have shared part of that life and to be here to share it with you. JoAnn (Joey to me) passed away on June 19, 2013, and will be remembered by many around the world and the Edmonds area.
My first story will share our beginnings and then our first Rotary project in Kenya and the challenges of testing hearing of 5079 children and Rotarians, crossing the Equator four times. I invite you to follow along in My Edmonds News.
A Memoir of Love and Adventure: My Joey and Me
Like in the song in the movie, Love Story, Joey, ‘With her first “Hello,”’ walked across the street on Thanksgiving Day, 1951, to meet me. JoAnn Stevenson was engaged to marry Gene Briscoe of Aberdeen, Washington, a fellow student at Central Washington University. DeLores, my wife of a year-and-a-half, had grown up across the street from Gene. With the sun shining on us and her curly blond hair, I recognized that here was an interesting and intelligent young woman. Our conversation proved it. It was exciting to exchange stories of college life, studying and future dreams.
Back to the challenging life at college I didn’t think about Joey until four years later when I found they had moved to Aberdeen to teach and have two babies. When she discovered this, DeLores said,“I’d like to see Gene’s babies.” “That’s OK with me” I answered. When we visited, again the interesting conversation captivated me. At the end of that school year, Gene and Joey moved to Newhalem, Joey’s home town, the Seattle City light company town on the upper Skagit River, to teach for six years.
Full 30 year careers in education passed by rather quickly, it seemed. I, as a speech therapist, audiologist and special education administrator, also had responsibility for vocational education on Vashon Island. Joey, on her second marriage, was attending a statewide vocational conference in Seattle. Looking in at the evening dance, there she was, ready to dance. Our jitterbug was sensational. But, alas! I had to leave to catch the last ferry to to return home to Vashon Island.. But this is not yet the end of the story. Five productive years later (1982) I retired from education. Then life changed again, dramatically. DeLores passed away in September 1984 from congestive heart failure. Her high stress job in the insurance industry in Seattle and the daily commute on the ferries resulted in a failing heart.
With aspirations of \new profession as a seminar leader, I teamed with a group of consultants. While getting my professional card made the graphic artist asked me “You must know JoAnn Stevens since you were both teachers and in Context Training. The “Context Training” program was then popular in Seattle and we had both attended our first “Pursuit of Excellence, but in different sessions. “I don’t recognize that name,” I told him. With his insistence I called JoAnn. To my great surprise and excitement she told me her first married name and said “Yes, Bill Morton, I remember you 30 years and 3 months ago!” Whoa – I knew I didn’t have an affair with her, so I asked her of the occasion. She said “That’s when my second daughter, Gail, was born, and that’s how old she is now.” What a relief. But I didn’t stop there. I asked if I could meet her. Our first date was exciting, a two hour a non-stop two way conversation at Arnie’s restaurant in Edmonds, followed by a walk on the fishing pier and a tour of her apartment. So now I knew where she worked and where she lived. I didn’t know, however, that she would be gone the next two long weeks on tourism conferences. She was immersed in developing her new business, “Creative Tours of Washington.”
Fast forward to Halloween night, our first night returning for the second time to Context Training Pursuit of Excellence together (and with Scott, my son). Since the exercises lasted until midnight it was too late for me to return home via the Vashon Island ferry. Invited to stay at Joey’s I never left. In a year’s time we attended two more “Pursuits,” two advanced sessions and two “Walls.” In each of the levels we both served as facilitators or leaders of small groups. With that background training, both of us became specialists and adept at human relationships, helping our own immensely. Other conferences ensued in the next year, such as: Rotary District 5030; WA State Tourism; National Speakers Association, and local tourism and speaker conferences – a busy and challenging time. But, our most important retreat was with the Wall. The rule was that men and women were housed in separate dorms and no one was to talk with another person except during working sessions, even those who were already in a relationship. We were. It was torture for me to be across the room from her and not talk to her. I broke the rules. I gave her a note saying “I would like to walk you back to your dorm.” Somehow, outside, we found each other in the dark for the short walk. Our kiss “goodnight” was a highlight for me to remember for our entire 28 years together.
Sitting across a table from Joey on the ferry ride back from Orcas Island, she asked, “What are your intentions?” My quick reply was: “To get married.” Her just as quick reply was: “Okay.” Not a highly romantic setting but it was good decision and of course, required much planning for the date of October 4, 1985, just one year after we met, lived and traveled together.
The Edmonds First Methodist Church agreed to host our wedding and we were off in myriads of plans. We agreed on a church wedding since we had been attending there. David, a red haired young assistant minister was eager to bring us together. But first, let’s reveal each of our idiosyncrasies. Because of our special interests, Joey and I seem to take over certain functions, whether they were assigned to us or not. Joey had a great interest in foods, being a former home and family life teacher. I happened to be by the front entrance, worrying whether guests would show up and if they would be on time. I began to enjoy the hugs as I greeted some of them, particularly several of my close women friends. Apparently I was generous with the invitations and they wanted to see who actually would marry me.
One of my long time best friends, John Veatch. brought a new Beta video camera with the intention of capturing the whole show. I believe neglected to practice the intricacies of operations because reviews of the pictures later found some very good pictures of the floor, the backs of peoples’ heads and long shots of the wedding actors on the stage. One outstanding picture revealed a wedding crasher, a middle aged, gray haired man, who kissed the bride at the end of the ceremony. Joey was surprised but said “I didn’t know him and don’t remember the kiss.” I said, “I didn’t see him since there were so many people there. He was sneaky, and perhaps he’ll remember that as the highlight of his life. I would have.” In the many times we have watched those movies, we always enjoyed reliving that momentous adventure.
Walks down the aisle.
Both of us had our older mothers there, mine at 83 and Joey’s at 87. I extended my arms to each and walked them down the aisle and sat them in their respective pews. The next act still is a mystery as to why I had planned it, but I climbed the two steps to the stage to the microphone and music stand to where my song, “Some Say Love is Like a Razor” laid waiting for me. My pianist and coach gave me the nod and started with the extremely loud cords. I think it startled me and he had to begin again until I found my voice. Fortunately the words were in large print and I had memorized the tune and just forged ahead, ignoring my pianist. I saw my mother’s face with a big smile and Joey was waiting at the far end of the center aisle with a smile on her face. I figured that if the two most important women in my life were happy, I’m doing okay.
At last the song ended and I actually got a big applause. I practically ran down the outside aisle to join Joey so I could walk her down to the stage and not stumble on the steps. David told us where to go (on stage) where we lit candles and faced him for what seemed a 20 minute talk, some instructions on marriage, I think! He forgot that we already know all about marriage. We just figured that he knew what he was talking about and was having fun. Finally it was over and I got to kiss the bride (again) and we stepped down to the level of the audience. In my greeting our friends there, I failed to notice the wedding crasher, but I don’t believe he knew that John was recording his deed for history. If only I could send a copy to the Pearly Gates and maybe they could identify him.
Receptions, for me, are much more fun than weddings. With such a wonderful array of food prepared by the church ladies, everyone got to sample their favorite food, some two or three times. Little kids, grand kids, getting acquainted, chased each other from one end of the hall to the other. They all seemed to have hard soled shoes that could be heard clacking throughout the large room. But they had fun. We did not squish cake icing on each others faces, tradition or not. John took more pictures and gave us the film. The film has served as entertainment numerous times as a reminder of a fun wedding, a great way to start a marriage, one that ended too soon, after 28 years. In retrospect, I can say it is a story of “Love and Adventure” which will become the next chapters committed to travel and education programs through Rotary International.
Written by Bill Morton, Ed.D., Edmonds resident of since 1984. Married 28 years to JoAnn Stevenson, Edmonds teacher, 1960 – 1984. Bill, a member of Lynnwood Rotary 27 years, served 30 years as a teacher, speech and hearing specialist and administrator of special education.