His job was to light the candles. And set the tables. And serve the food twice a day.
In 1953, being a houseboy at a sorority was a plum post.
“I put myself through college for three years doing that,” Howard Copp (’57 Civil Engineering) says, sipping a beer during a recent Pullman pep rally. “That was back when tuition was $65 a semester.”
He could have worked there for four years. But Martha Putnam came along.
It was a fall day. Howard was in Alpha Gamma Delta, wearing the requisite waitstaff blazer and slacks, serving a meal to 60-some sorority women under the watchful eye of the cook when he saw Martha. He wanted to ask her on a date. He needed to ask her on a date.
“There was a rule that houseboys couldn’t date women in the sororities,” Martha said. “When he asked me out, the housemother said ‘You have to choose between dating an Alpha Gam and keeping your job here.’ ”
Their first date? “I’m not sure where we went,” says Martha. “It was a long time ago. Probably The Coug or a movie. The Coug was only Cokes and coffee then.”
Howard found a houseboy job at a different sorority and kept seeing Martha. They married two years later, and Martha left college. Not finishing her business degree is one of her few regrets. “I made sure our two children graduated,” she says.
The Copps stayed in Pullman. Howard became a professor of civil engineering at WSU. He specialized in hydraulic engineering, and represented the University on hydrology and water-quality planning committees in the Columbia River Basin. He was also part of the first team behind the Washington Higher Education Telecommunication System, which helped branch campuses stay in touch with the main campus and laid the groundwork for WSU’s online degree programs.
Martha worked for several WSU departments, including Campus and Community Relations, where she helped plan the first Lentil Festival in 1989 and organized the celebration for the first-day issue of the Edward R. Murrow commemorative stamp.
The Copps retired in 1996 and just celebrated their 59th anniversary.
All those years ago, when Martha first saw Howard, did she think his houseboy skills would translate into husband skills?
“Not at the time,” she says. “But they did.”