A valentine couple since the fifth grade

Posted: Monday, February 14, 2011

Ted Merrell said the first time he saw Doreen Gillett walk into a room he knew she was the one for him.

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Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

“I thought ‘boy, that’s a neat looking girl,” Merrell said. “Her family had just moved to town.”

It may have been a bit premature as Doreen, born in 1924, and Ted, one year older, were only in the fifth grade at a Catholic school in Superior, Wis.

It was April of 1934 and spring was in the air.

“She was wearing a sailor suit,” Ted said. “A dress with a bib in he back and white piping in it. Her mother was an expert seamstress.”

“My mother made all our clothes,” Doreen said. “And my sister and I always wore the same thing. He was just a boy in my class.”

Doreen said he was never interested in girls. Ted said he was interested, but just never dated.

The house Doreen’s family moved into was a block from Ted’s and the high school was one half block away.

As president of the visual aide club in high school, he was required to have a date to a certain event and took Doreen. They drove to a cabin by a lake with other couples for a day’s outing.

Another time Ted remembers being invited by Doreen’s father to look through a homemade telescope with a hand-grinded lens, and then being invited to go with them to a large observatory in Duluth, Minn. There were no kisses either time, however.

“I had a lot of boyfriends,” Doreen said.

“She was really beautiful,” Ted said. “She still is.”

Doreen was a prom queen with many suitors. Ted didn’t have a date but could stay out as late as he pleased.

“I remember getting ready to go into school,” Doreen said. “And I would look back and see him running as fast as he could because the tardy bell was going to ring.”

They graduated high school in 1941. Ted started at St. Olaf College and wrote her a letter that first day. Doreen went to a Superior State Teacher’s college.

“We have saved every letter we ever wrote to each other,” Ted said.

“We have boxes and boxes full in the basement,” Doreen added.

Ted enlisted in the military right after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, thinking he had signed up for an officer deferred program, but instead the draft came and he had to leave.

Ted wrote letters from Fort Snelling in Indianapolis and Camp Roberts in California. Doreen wrote back.

When Ted was about to be shipped overseas to New Guinea, Doreen had moved with her family to Bellingham, Wash. Ted was given a ticket from his parents to go see her. Both families were trying to get the two together. Doreen’s parents packed them a picnic lunch and on a beach on Orcas Island in 1943, Ted proposed and Doreen accepted. Then they had their first kiss.

They mutually agreed it wasn’t a good idea to get married until he returned from overseas.

“We knew each other forever,” Doreen said. “Our mothers were good friends. He was very dependable.”

“She was the only girl I liked,” Ted said.

They continued to write letters. When he was discharged in 1946, Ted and his best friend Bob Larson from college drove a 1939 Ford west so he could get reacquainted with Doreen.

On Aug. 8, 1946, Ted and Doreen married. Ted finished college at St. Olaf’s and was accepted into a master’s program at the University of Michigan. At college they were allowed to live in their teardrop trailer while newborn Ted Jr. slept in a tent. The couple cooked on a barbeque.

Ted was hired as a fisheries research biologist by the state of Oregon for seven years and worked on the Columbia River. Son Bruce and daughter Susan were born in Oregon.

The Bureau of Commercial Fisheries was formed and Ted came to Alaska to work at Lena Point for the U.S. government in 1956. Doreen worked in the lab at the university. Daughter Mindy joined the family soon after.

Ted Jr. is a fisherman and lives in Juneau, Bruce lives in Anchorage, Sue lives in California, and Mindy in Chugiak.

Ted and Doreen have been married 65 years now and have no secrets about marriage.

“We are willing to put up with each other, I guess,” Doreen said.

“Letting your wife letting you make all the major decisions,” Ted said. “Just being considerate. We’ve had a great life here.”

The couple likes to go out to the Sandpiper and The Baranof on lunch and dinner dates. They like to walk Fritz Cove from their home, built in 1972, or down their stairs to the beach cabin where they have picnics.

“Juneau’s a great place,” Doreen said.

“Just look out the window,” Ted added. “And she’s a good cook.”

“He used to hunt a lot,” Doreen said. “I would cook what ever he could bring home.”

The couple has traveled by small RV all across the United States, driving coast-to-coast and camping along the Denali Highway as well. They have been abroad to Australia, England, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, and a memorable trip to the Soviet Union when it began to open to foreigners.

“We enjoy each other’s company,” Ted said.

“We like to be at home a lot together,” Doreen added.

“We belong to a club called MOOs — Married Only Once,” Ted said.

With Valentine’s Day here, the couple had a few ideas on what to do.

“I was just thinking about that,” said Doreen. “I need to find him a special card.”

“I already have hers,” Ted said. “She is still as beautiful as fifth grade. She has always been attractive, you would never know she was 86.”

“You would never know he was 87,” Doreen replied.

• Contact Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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