Cardinal Cadence Spring/Summer 2013

A college love story

It’s not unusual for people to meet in college, fall in love, marry, have children and live happily ever after. Although Frederic ’60 and Ruth (Findley) Day ’75 found each other in college and fell in love, theirs is anything but your typical college love story. Their quest for education brought them together in college, which eventually led to their “happily ever after” and, ultimately, to the establishment of an endowed scholarship for Lamar students.

At a young age, and after nine years of marriage, Ruth (Findley) Evans became a young widow with three children to support. She always wanted to be a teacher, so Ruth set her sights on acquiring a college degree from the University of Texas at Austin to fulfill that dream, as well as to make a living for her young family. Fate, however, dealt her a new hand when she met a dashing young airman, the roommate of a college friend with polio whom she had regularly been driving to school.

“I’ll never forget this as long as I live,” Fred said while reminiscing about how he and Ruthie met. “I needed to pick up an extra class and asked my buddy for advice. The advice he gave was to talk to his driver, Ruth Evans. So, I called her, and, being an English major, she suggested a literature course. I’d never taken a literature course, but I thought it would be an easy class, so I enrolled.

“The first day of class, just as the professor was introducing the course, the door opened and in walked this little brown-haired gal who sat down in the front row next to me. I quietly slipped her a note that said, ‘Hi, I’m Fred.’ Not being one for shyness, she immediately blurted out for all to hear, ‘Hi, I’m Ruthie.’ The professor was less than pleased with us, to say the least. We both made the worst grades of our college careers in that class.”

Fred was attending classes at UT while on temporary duty in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. He was taking advantage of a degree completion program called Operation Bootstrap. While he was eventually sent back to his base in South Carolina, he stayed in touch with Ruthie through daily letters.

He finally called Ruthie and said, “We have to get married.” They tied the knot, but were almost immediately separated by his military obligations. A year went by when he was stationed in New Mexico where he decided it was time to end his military career. By this time, Ruth had completed her bachelor’s degree in English and was teaching in Austin. Taking advantage of a job placement program, the new family moved to Port Arthur where she began a teaching career while he went to work as a chemist for Texaco.

“I’ve always been intrigued by science because, through science, you get to answer the question, ‘Why,’” Fred said. “Texaco wouldn’t allow me to transfer to the research department without a college degree, so I enrolled at Lamar to complete my degree in chemical engineering.”

Frederic DayHe spent six years as a chemist while taking college classes at night until he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1960. According to Fred, there was no path for professional development as a chemist, but within a month of transferring into the research department he was named a senior chemical engineer. Years later, Ruthie also decided to return to school to acquire her master’s degree in English, which she completed in 1975. She had a 29-year teaching career at Sam Houston Elementary in Port Arthur.

“Ruthie was an extraordinary teacher,” Fred said. “She deeply believed in the benefits of an education. She didn’t need a master’s degree; she just wanted to have one.”

Ruth died in 2007. To honor her memory and dedication to education, Fred established the Ruth E. and Frederic F. Day Scholarship in Sciences. The endowed scholarship was established for Lamar students who plan to major in the sciences: computer science, mathematics, biology, chemistry, earth sciences, physics and geology.

“I wanted to do something good with my assets, and I can’t think of a better place to bestow my money than on the students at Lamar,” he said. “This country needs scientists, and it just makes me feel good to know this will help.”

Fred developed a love for sailing through the years that continues today. He was a sophomore in high school when a teacher invited him on his first sailing trip.

Although they spent most of the day drifting and paddling from a lack of wind, he got the sailing bug. Now, even without his first-mate, he still enjoys getting out on the Gulf in his sailboat.

“Sailing is an incurable disease,” Fred said with a wide smile. “If you ever catch it, you’ll never get over it.”

by Larry Acker