Shirley Fouts, 92, received a delightful gift from her children, yet one more blessing for which to be grateful since it came on Thanksgiving Day.
Unbeknownst to Shirley, son John Fouts and daughters Marilee Magee, Shauna Andrews and Gail Hatkoff conspired to commemorate a special event in her life with something tangible that can also be enjoyed by the community.
At noon on Nov. 23, they accompanied Shirley to Wildwood Park where a new bench had been installed with a plaque.
“It really surprised her. Her comment was, ‘here is where our family began,’ ” John said.
Her children formulated the idea because “every time we would go by the corner (at Boyer Avenue and Division Street) mom would tell the story of dad asking her to go steady. She says she even remembers the kiss,” John said.
The movable bench Bill and Shirley sat upon faced diagonally across the intersection there at Division and Boyer, but the couple’s offspring chose to aim the bench with a view of Wildwood Park.
The bench’s commemorative plaque reads, “At this location in 1941 Bill Fouts asked Shirley Barclay to go steady. Married October 29, 1943.” The bench was commissioned by the Walla Walla Department of Parks & Recreation, with help from Andy Coleman.
Bill’s query happened during wartime, “and after they married, dad went off to his assignment in Trinidad for the duration of the war,” John said.
Bill was in the military police and “the post commander of the training base wanted to keep his company as the post police. The rest who were in training at that time went to Burma with Merrill’s Marauders. Dad always said he was never so lucky in his life.”
What Bill meant by his good fortune is that by Aug. 10, 1944, the Marauders/5307th was disbanded with a final total of 130 combat-effective officers and men out of the original 2,997. Of the 2,750 to enter Burma, only two were left alive who had never been hospitalized with wounds or major illness.
Bill Fouts died at 42 in 1966 of acute atherosclerosis.
“Mom raised us by herself. I was in college, Marilee in high school, Shauna in Sharpstein and Gail a week short of 2 years old,” John recalled.
Shirley took classes at Walla Walla Community College, which was founded in 1967, got a job as a secretary with the Walla Walla School District Food Service, then became director there.
“By herself, she paid off the house that dad and she had built in 1955,” John said. Shirley became sole support for their children at age 42.