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Two Careers In Education Sharing Memories With Larry & Ida Washington
photo by Photo ProvidedGathered together in celebration are Larry & Ida Washington and their children. From left to right Richard, Larry, Paul, Carol, Ruth, and Ida. Larry & Ida Washington have celebrated 66 years of marriage!
photo by Photo ProvidedWith the winter snows just beginning to swirl in the window behind him, Larry Washington pauses to share a story of the couple and their family building their Weybridge home and everyone pitching in to help.
Tuesday December 16, 2014
By Cookie Steponaitis
There is a sense of completeness and coming full circle when sitting down to listen to Larry & Ida Washington share memories of sixty-six years of marriage, six children, and fifteen grandchildren. Born and raised in different states; Ida on Long Island and Larry in Connecticut, they came to Middlebury College German Summer Language School as young adults. They formed a bond that has stood the test of decades, a family, many moves, and kept them grounded to their adopted Vermont home.
It was January of 1943 and Larry (Lawrence) was in his senior year of high school in Bloomfield, Connecticut. A war time program allowed him to accelerate and Larry came to Middlebury College for his first semester in January. After only three semesters Larry found himself a part of the US Army (1944-1946) with anti-aircraft troops in Europe, especially Belgium and Germany. “When we went into Germany,” recollected Larry Washington, “I was the only one in my troop with any German and mine was sketchy at best. I was told to tell a family we were taking over their home for the night. I managed to communicate that and the family agreed to go to the basement. Now all these years later hindsight makes me wonder if maybe it would have been safer with all the shelling and bombing if we went into the basement.”
Ida’s family consisted of three brothers and Ida. Her mother had been a college professor and her father was an inventor. Ida’s father wanted her to attend Wellesley College. “I was not to keen on the idea of an all girls school,” she shared. When it came time to write on her college application “Why I want to attend Wellesley”, she wrote “I do not want to attend Wellesley, my father wants me to, and these are his reasons”. What happened was a classic backfire. The committee was delighted with her wit, spunk and daring and took her immediately. Ida graduated from Wellesley with honors in 1946. After two years of graduate study at Harvard, Ida came to the Middlebury College Summer German School in 1948, then located in Bristol, Vt. For six weeks the students spoke only German. “Who was that good looking fellow and where was he from?” queried Ida.
With a shared passion for education, learning and language, the pair began a relationship that summer that has not only sustained them, but seen them have a family and two careers that have spanned the nation several times. “People told me I was marrying a college professor,” quipped Ida. “In reality, it was more like marrying a migrant worker. We moved a lot.” Married the day after Christmas in 1948, they immediately left for the University of Washington in Seattle where Larry had a graduate assistant position. They returned to Middlebury College where they both received a Master’s Degree in German.
Larry’s career began at King’s College in Pennsylvania and Gettysburg College. After taking a year in residence at Brown University where he earned his PhD, he went back to teaching at Bowdoin College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Hamlin University, Upsale College and finally at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. At this last school both Larry and Ida were asked to start the German program in the new university and each held important positions there.
Simultaneously, Ida was teaching and started aiming for her career by traveling from Troy to New York City where she earned her PhD at Columbia University in 1962.Chuckling, Ida reminisced, “I borrowed Larry’s academic gown for my graduation ceremony, hemmed it up eight inches and was glad it was big, because I was very pregnant with our fifth child. The woman standing next to me in the procession did not even seem to realize I was pregnant.” Ida has taught German at the University of Minnesota, Drew University, New York University, Seton Hall University and the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. She also served as the Executive Director of the Northeast Modern Language Association for eight years.
Center to all of this was the family unit. Larry, Ida and all six of the children Carol, Larry, Paul, Ida, Ruth and Richard worked together. “All the kids helped out, and we had a job system. Each week each child drew a job to do Saturday morning so that the house work got done. “When raising children,” commented Larry, “you simply do the best you can and hope that they will grow into good people. There were many times when we did not have the money to buy them the latest things, but we made the conscious decision to share ourselves with each of them. Turns out, it was the best thing we could ever do.”
Four of the six children were able to come to the family home in Weybridge for Ida’s recent 90th birthday celebration and two chimed in by phone from San Diego and Paris. One grand child, Opera singer bass, Bradley Smoak, with his contralto wife Jennifer even came and sang recently at the Weybridge Church. The family home started when the couple purchased a ten rod square piece of property in 1952 for $ 100.00. Over the years the couple not only built on each addition, but as the children grew they also added to the work force. After the last children graduated from high school in other states, the couple made Vermont their legal residence. While not Vermonters by birth, the pair has spent many weekends, every summer, most Christmas holidays, and continuously for the last thirty years in the long white house. Both feel they qualify as Vermonters at heart. “We truly belong here,” concluded Larry Washington. “Our friends, neighbors and the life style that is Vermont is where we belong.” Ida added quickly that Vermonters are the best because they can even “disagree without being disagreeable.”
When asked to comment on the growing cost of college in America and some teens choosing not to attend, Ida Washington was fierce and quick to send a message to the next generations. “You can’t afford not to go to college,” she stated. “It opens up the world.” There is a partnership apparent to anyone meeting the pair that has been honed by decades of family, language and love. For the young couples starting out the advice offered was simple. “Be honest to yourself and remember that being a partner means to work together for each other’s dreams and goals.” “ In the long run, working at something you truly like will lead to happiness.” Yet another story of strength, versatility and accomplishment; quietly shared by members of America’s greatest generation.
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