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How We Met: Illinois State University connections

When Jack Powell Sr. ’52 entered the now demolished Old Main for his English class in November of 1949, something other than the syllabus captured his attention. He noticed Wanda Rae Bryant ’55, who was a switchboard operator making 50 cents an hour.

“He wrote me a note saying, ‘I was going to go home this weekend, but if you go with me to the dance I’ll stay,’” Wanda said. “Of course I said yes, and we had a great time at the sock hop.”

Dating led to an engagement on New Year’s Eve. That winter classes were canceled for a week because there was not enough coal to heat the University. The two used the time to marry. A few months later the Army began drafting men to fight the Korean War. Jack had served during World War II, but was still eligible for the draft.

“If we had waited until June like we originally wanted to for the wedding, chances are I would have been drafted,” Jack said. “Since I was recently married I was pushed to the end of the list.”

A teacher shortage in the 1950s gave education majors with more than 60 credit hours the opportunity to start teaching. Wanda left to lead a third grade class in LeRoy. Jack graduated in 1952 with a science and agriculture degree. He moved to Kansas to work for Metropolitan Farm Mortgage, and traveled the Midwest doing appraisals.

In 1953 Wanda gave birth to their first of five children, Diana, and returned to campus to finish her degree. With Jack on the move, Wanda brought Diana with her to the Home Management House, now known as Rambo House. They were the first mother-daughter pair in residence. Wanda graduated in 1955 with a home economics degree.

She and Jack became lifelong teachers, traveling for work to several different states. Jack had famous television personalities John Ritter and Jaclyn Smith as students, while Wanda taught NBA superstar Vince Carter.

The two retirees enjoy their 16 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. They are thankful for the opportunities they received at Illinois State and do their best to stay involved, making it to the occasional play or basketball game.

The couple recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary and enjoyed meeting with friends they hadn’t seen in years. Both remain grateful Jack couldn’t keep his mind focused on that English class.

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