Harry Foster, ’58, settled into his seat near the back of the history class at Fort Smith Junior College. The Army man stationed at Fort Chaffee looked around at his classmates in that fall semester of 1957 before his eyes stopped on a girl sitting to the right on the third row.
During the class, he learned her name was JoAnn and that she worked as a medical transcriptionist at Fort Chaffee.
“I changed my coffee hour so I could run into her on base and I could ask, ‘Did you get your paper written?’” Harry said.
It wasn’t until nearly the end of the spring semester that Harry asked JoAnn out for their first date on March 4, 1958. He chuckles now that he moved slowly.
“I thought he was kind of interested but I didn’t know if anything was going to happen or not,” JoAnn said.
More than 50 years and many memories have passed since that first meeting and date. Recently, the couple established a scholarship to help students at the school where they met.
Soon after their first date, JoAnn knew she would like to marry Harry. Harry thought the same about JoAnn, but there was a problem. Harry was discharged from the Army in April 1958. He didn’t have a job and his education remained unfinished.
After finishing the spring semester at the junior college, he returned to Kentucky where his family still lived.
“We used a lot of three-cent stamps writing back and forth,” Harry said.
They also travelled. That summer, JoAnn went to Kentucky to meet Harry’s family. In the fall, Harry returned to Arkansas and JoAnn. Then in December JoAnn journeyed to Ohio where Harry’s family had moved and he had enrolled in Ohio State University to study secondary education. In January 1959, Harry travelled to Arkansas one more time. He had picked out a ring and asked JoAnn’s father for permission to marry his daughter.
That spring JoAnn moved to Ohio and continued her work as a medical transcriptionist as they planned their wedding. The couple married on June 13, 1959. Nine months and six days later, the first of their two sons was born.
After graduating from college in 1961, Harry owed the Army two years of service thanks to the financial assistance the family received through the Reserve Officers Training Corps. He ended up staying an additional 17 years moving around the United States and the Far East, including two tours in Vietnam. He earned a master’s in international relations from George Washington University and taught classes for the military. JoAnn continued to take classes, mostly in art, throughout the moves and raising their children.
In 1978, Harry retired from Army life. He used his G.I. Bill to enroll in seminary.
“I changed armies,” he said. “After 20 years of giving them hell, I decided to try the other side.”
After years of serving as a pastor, he returned to the classroom and taught Old Testament Studies at Texas Lutheran University.
The couple retired again. Now, they live in New Braunfels, Texas. In their retirement community, other residents look forward to JoAnn’s monthly unveiling of a new watercolor outside of their apartment door.
But it was in looking back to where they met that the couple decided to establish the scholarship. They remember well the struggles to achieve their educations and what they have given in return.
“We know our educations have allowed us to live the life we’ve lived,” Harry said. “We wanted to put in doorstops to hold open doors for those coming behind us.”
Before their marriage, JoAnn worked to save money for tuition. She went away to school until the money ran out, then returned to Fort Smith and began working again while attending night school at the junior college.
“I wanted to do a scholarship so much because I financed all of my college work because my parents couldn’t afford it,” she said. “I wanted to help people if they didn’t have the funds.”