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Livingston Love Story

When we celebrated UWA Giving Day in November of 2017, we received a donation from Lillis Fuller Atchley, a 1949 graduate of Livingston State Teacher’s College. Lillis, the oldest donor on Giving Day, shared her fond memories of her time in Livingston with us, which shaped the rest of her life:

I remember like it was yesterday…

It was a warm September morning during my first semester at Livingston State Teachers College. I couldn’t open my combination mailbox in Tutwiler Hall and a boy named Fred teasingly helped open my box. I knew then he would be the love of my life. Fred said the he did not know exactly when he first realized he loved me, but he did say that he was always drawn to me and noticed that he was paying attention to wherever I was at college.

Lillis Fuller Atchley

“There you were in the same classroom as me, there you were in the library,” he would say.

He wrote later that he was in love with me from the very beginning but did not have sense enough to know it.

College recruiters had come to my home in Grand Bay, Alabama, in Mobile County during the summer of 1945. I had just turned 17, after having graduated from Mobile County High School in June of 1945. A recruiter from Troy State Teachers College had come first, but nothing could be worked out financially. A short time later, a recruiter from Livingston came. The recruiter told my family that everything could be worked out financially, and for me to just come. I wrote to Dr. Alda Mae Spieth, the science instructor who was from Mobile, requesting information about the college. I then felt confident about going there.

After Fred’s high school graduation in 1945, he had the choice of going to college at Livingston or working with his grandfather, Alfred Gaines Harrell, on the family farm in Melvin, Alabama. Fred never liked farming, so he chose to go to school.

Fred and I both worked in the college dining hall. Tables were set family style, with porcelain white table cloths, napkins, and silverware that need polishing by the student workers every Saturday morning. We had just missed the requirement to dress for dinner each night, which was dropped shortly before we came to Livingston. Fred was originally assigned to the faculty table but asked me to trade tables with him because he was nervous about his table manners. It was a wonderful deal, I thought, because the faculty brought extra goodies that I always enjoyed. During our sophomore year at college, the dining hall was changed to cafeteria style.

That following spring, Fred was failing biology and was afraid he was going to have to drop out of school. Not wanting him to leave, I offered to tutor him in the science classroom at night as the instructor, Spieth, left her lesson on the blackboard overnight. Fred fell in love with biology, and soon became Spieth’s student assistant. He changed his major to biology and  later taught biology in San Antonio high schools. I’ll never forget when Fred realized the impact I had made on his life. In 2012, he was mowing our front yard and ran—well we’ll just say hurried—inside.

“The instructor, the textbook and everything else was the same,” he said. “The only difference was you as my tutor.”

On December 15, 1946, Fred gave me a heart-shaped locket and told me that it represented his heart—that he was giving his heart to me.

“I’m the happiest guy in the world,” he exclaimed, “because the girl I love loves me too.”

We would always sit on benches in “the bowl,” a depression between Webb Hall and the highway. Daffodils bloomed there in the spring and red tiger lilies bloomed there in the fall. Fred has a strange game he played with me. If a car had only one headlight and Fred said “Popeye,” he could get a kiss. If I said “Popeye” first, I could slap Fred–something I did not want to do. I always wondered if Fred made up that game or where he had learned it. Fred and I listened to classical music together in the music room in Webb Hall. There was also a game room with jigsaw puzzles in process and a formal parlor.

On April 22, 1947, Fred and I were in rocking chairs on the front porch of Webb Hall, the girls’ dormitory, when Fred got down on one knee and proposed to me. He rather spoiled it by asking me to keep it secret because there was an unwelcome suitor at his home with ideas. I felt like an idiot when Fred told everyone at college anyways that we were engaged when I was saying we weren’t.

In the fall of 1947, I had to drop out of college for one year to teach school at Alba, a Mobile County school in Bayou la Batre, Alabama. Fred would hitch-hike to visit me several times during that year. I prepared Fred a Thanksgiving dinner that year, making pumpkin pie from scratch and baking a chicken. Fred would not even taste my pumpkin pie, which upset me quite a bit.

In the fall of 1948,  Fred left school early, finishing his courses by correspondence. At that time, Fred and I had broken up and were not corresponding with each other.

In January of 1949, Fred was drafted and sent to basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Fred admitted to me that while he was in basic training, he began to realize that he truly loved me and wondered if he had already lost me. He still wanted to marry me, but realized he might be too late.  By then, I was already dating other guys and had accepted a position at one of the Alabama schools for the upcoming school year. He ended up writing to me to see if I still cared for him and I, of course, responded that I did—that I would always love him.

 

Fred Atchley

Fred then wrote to his mother telling her he wanted to marry me.

“Lillis is special to me,” he wrote. “If I lose her, I’ll never get over it.”

Fred’s mother cautioned Fred about making a mistake in marrying me. Fred soon wrote asking me to marry him when he came for college graduation in May. We graduated on May 22, 1949, and were married the very next day. We made our way to Texas, where he was stationed at Fort Sam Houston, the day after our wedding. Fred had rented an apartment, which was not really an apartment, but only 2 bedrooms. Fred was horrified but as far as I was concerned, wherever Fred was would be all right with me.

Lillis and Fred 1970

In October of 1950, Fred was sent overseas to Japan to Camp Hakata as part of the 141st General Hospital, which replaced the 128th. The Korean Conflict was in progress at the time. Fred worked as a lab technician. Fred and I wrote each other every day, but mail came at irregular intervals. Sometimes I would get as many as seven letters at one time. Fred wrote me one time that when he was reading one of my letters and walked across wet cement. I still laugh aloud thinking about it. Fred finished his tour and came home in October of 1951, honorably discharged from the service.

On June 24, 1954, our twin sons were born. Both Fred and I worked at American Hospital and Life Insurance Company for a number of years, but eventually began teaching, for which both of us had been trained to do at Livingston. Dr. W.W. Jackson on the Texas State Board of Education encouraged us to teach, and we both taught at South San Antonio Independent School District and North East Independent School District. Fred received his Master of Education in science degree at Incarnate Word University in 1962, and I received my Master of Arts in English degree in 1973 from St. Mary’s University.

Fred retired in June 1990, and he and I then did volunteer work, becoming docents at the Institute of Texan Cultures for 15 years. We also joined the San Antonio Genealogical Society, the North San Antonio Retired Teachers, and the Greater San Antonio Quilt Guild. Fred was a member of both Languedoc, the local chapter, as well as the national Huguenot Society. He was also a member of the Presidential Families of America.

 

Fred and Lillis 2007

On May 25, 2013, my world changed forever. Fred fell in the bathroom, injuring his head and needing brain surgery. The neurosurgeon’s prognosis was that Fred would be in a vegetative-like state, bedridden and unable to communicate. He was in a deep coma at San Antonio Military Medical Center for 25 days and in rehab for 100 days, and although Fred did not fully recover, he was able to feed himself, use the bathroom, walk with the aid of a walker, and communicate, especially with me. Fred was in palliative care for a while and then in Hospice care. I took care of him all of that time. I did not take advantage of the respite care available for 5 days every month because I felt that I be abandoning Fred if I did that.

Lillis

On April 30, 2016, Fred and I fell asleep holding one another’s hands, but only I woke up. The chaplain and a Hospice nurse were with me while we awaited the mortuary personnel. Both of them commented that where our heads were touching, they formed a long heart shape—like the locket he gave me so long ago. Fred and I lacked 23 days reaching our 67th wedding anniversary.

On May 6, 2016, Fred was laid to rest at Sunset Memorial Cemetery. Fred’s grave marker also has my name and date of birth. I await the date that I will see him again. I am alone now, as I have lost the love of my life—the love that started so many years before at Livingston State Teachers College.