They were in the same psychology class.

It was one of those large lecture classes, the kind that fills an auditorium in the science building, and they didn’t actually talk with one another until the last day.

“I was sitting with a friend of mine, and I can still remember this group of lively girls sitting several rows in front of us,” says Duane Stowe (’51 Busi.).

Duane and Arleen at Washington State College dance in 1950
Duane and Arleen at WSC dance, 1950
(Courtesy Stowe family)

He was a sophomore from Burlington. She was a freshman from Yakima. It was the end of January 1949, finals for fall semester, and Duane and his buddy were going for coffee at The Coug to celebrate. At the last minute, they invited two of the girls to go with them.

“I sat with Bill, and the two gals sat across from us,” Duane recalls. “Arleen was sitting across from me.”

In those days, Pullman’s famed Cougar Cottage “served coffee and Cokes,” Duane says. “There was no beer.”

He doesn’t remember what they talked about. But, “I don’t think it was psychology.”

Even though he didn’t know her then, he knew of her. “The fella that introduced me to her had been going with her,” Duane says. “He had a picture of her all dressed up, and I thought, ‘What a pretty girl!’ I was aware of who she was, and I was very interested in her. He was going with someone else by then, and so was she, and I had a girl back home. That was 70 years ago⁠—71 years ago. We’ve had a wonderful life.”

Duane and Arleen Stowe (’52 Ed.) met several more times at The Coug. At some point, he says, “I carved my name on something, but I never could find it again.”

Their first “really big date” was more than a year later. She accompanied him in spring 1950 to his installation ceremony for the Crimson Circle, a long-running but now defunct men’s organization at Washington State.

“I sent two of my fraternity brothers to ask her if she’d go with me. I was kind of bashful,” says Duane, adding he’d walk by her sorority house every day. Soon, they were spending most weekends together.

“A lot of the houses had a dance every weekend,” he says. “We went to many dances together. Some of my friends had cars, and we’d double-date with them.”

He remembers taking her to see September Affair, starring Joan Fontaine, at the Cordova Theatre in downtown Pullman. “We didn’t go downtown very often. It was a big thrill to get to go downtown to see a movie,” Duane says. “I still remember the song from the movie: ‘September Song.’ We had to walk down from Greek Row. It gives you a lot of time to talk.”

Says Arleen, “We just enjoyed visiting.”

Being with Duane, she says, “was just very comfortable.”

Usually, the couple stuck close to campus and College Hill, where Duane remembers sledding that winter. “We walked a lot in the snow together. We’d walk to class. We’d spend a lot of time in Bryan Hall, where the library was back then. We’d study together and take a break and sit out on the main steps and talk.”

He was also a member of the Intercollegiate Knights. The night before home football games, “we’d stay up all night guarding Butch,” the University’s live-cougar mascot. “We were there to prevent anything from happening to him,” Duane says. During games, “I got to walk the cougar around (the stadium) in his cage. We all dressed in our Intercollegiate Knight sweaters. If we won, we were the ones who got to ring the Victory Bell.”

In spring 1951, he gave Arleen his fraternity pin. In spring 1952, they got engaged.

She sang a solo to him and his fraternity brothers from the front porch of her house, and all of her sorority sisters came out to listen. “That was a big deal,” Duane says. “I had a box of cigars and passed them out to everybody. It was really something.”

He was in ROTC and received orders before graduation, serving in Japan during the Korean War with the U.S. Air Force for three years. Arleen graduated while he was gone, moving back to her hometown to teach.

“I wrote to her every night from over there,” Duane says. “That was the biggest deal at the end of the day: mail call to get that letter.”

They married in Yakima when he returned from service on June 27, 1954. Then they moved to Burlington, where Duane’s father, Harry, had founded Stowe’s Clothing in 1940.

While Harry hadn’t attended Washington State College, he stayed in Ferry Hall with the U.S. Army before heading to New Jersey to be shipped overseas to fight in World War I. The 1918 influenza pandemic delayed his shipment, and the armistice was signed before his unit left for France. “He was real anxious to get over there,” Duane says. “He didn’t get the flu, but it held up his group.”

His senior year, a business professor told Duane’s class “that the mom-and-pop store was dead, that it was all over. And that was a burr under my saddle. All these years, I worked to prove him wrong. And I did.”

Duane went to work in his family’s store with his dad and brother, forming a three-way partnership. He did the buying and worked the floor. Arleen worked in the office. “We’d lunch together every day,” she says.

By then, she had quit teaching and was working as the bookkeeper for Stowe’s Shoes and Clothing as well as raising the couple’s two daughters: Merri Anne and Peggy (’82 Busi.).

Granddaughters Ashley (’10 Busi.) and Melissa (’10 App., Merch. & Text.) are Cougs, too. Peggy and Ashley are managing the store now. Melissa does all the social media and runs the website. Melissa and her husband, John Timberlake (’10 Busi. Admin.), met at WSU and share the same wedding date as her grandparents. They married June 27, 2015. Says Melissa, “They were thrilled to share the day with us!”

At one time, Stowe’s had five locations from Bellingham to Albany, Oregon. “Arleen was with me through the whole bit,” Duane says. “We stuck together through everything, all the ups and downs.”

The secret to their long, successful marriage: “We respect each other,” Duane says.

“That’s what I was going to say,” Arleen says, adding, “We give each other space, but we also do a lot of things together.”

And, Duane says, “We agree politically. We’ve also been very active in the community. We still stay as active as we can.”

In the end, he says, “We are Cougs, through and through.”


Web extra

We Met @ WSU: Stories from WSU alumni who found romance at Washington State