East Stroudsburg University Foundation - Planned Giving

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Evelyn '44 and Willard '67 Werkheiser

Evelyn '44 and Willard '67 Werkheiser

There's a sense of comfort in the home of Willard and Evelyn Werkheiser. Their Wind Gap, Pa., farmhouse holds so much of all they cherish. There they have each other and decades of memories of raising their children at the foot of the picturesque Pocono Mountains.

It is home, after all. It's the very piece of land that, as a young man, Willard saved for while at his job in a tool shop at Bethlehem Steel. After he purchased the 106-acre farm, he found his dream girl, and in 1945, Willard and Evelyn married.

Sitting across from each other in their cozy kitchen, the two almost complete each other's sentences. Their marriage of 67 years includes two daughters, a son, four grandchildren and three great grandchildren. Now 95 years old, Willard talks fondly of his aspirations as a farmer, his passion for books, and the years he spent as a teacher in Easton, Pa. "I tried a little bit of everything and failed at all of them," he said with a laugh.

But in reality, Willard was second in his high school class when he graduated in 1935. His travels took him to Seattle, where he joined the Coast Guard and served in Alaska for three years. But Pennsylvania called him back and his sliver of the American Dream took root on the rolling hills of the Slate Belt. When farming didn't allow the family to make ends meet, Willard returned to the classroom, earning his teaching degree at ESU in his early 40s and teaching for more than a decade.

Evelyn went to high school with Willard's sister, and a casual meeting became more in 1942 when Willard took her on their first date. At that time, Evelyn was a sophomore at East Stroudsburg State Teacher's College. Her passion to teach led to a 27-year career as an educator—several in a one-room schoolhouse in Nazareth, Pa.

Becoming a teacher was important to Evelyn. The college friends she made as a student are dear to her. Evelyn's years on campus took place during the onset of World War II, and talk of those days rekindles vivid memories of listening to President Roosevelt declaring war on Japan as his speech played on the radio in the campus dining hall.

While Willard worked his farm, Evelyn completed her schooling and moved to Central Pennsylvania to teach for two years. During that time apart, the two knew it was meant to be, and Willard proudly shares he still has the bundle of letters his love wrote to him.

Through the years, the Werkheisers lived the highs and lows of farming. In the down years, Willard returned to school, attending ESU to become a teacher. He completed his degree in three years, and went on to teach for more than a decade in the Easton school system.

The couple doesn't get back to ESU much—returning the last time in 1994 for Evelyn's 50th class reunion—but their feelings for their alma mater run deep. So deep that when they sold a portion of the farm to preservation land trust in 2010, they reinvested some of the proceeds into a charitable gift annuity through the East Stroudsburg University Foundation.

The years of hard work on the farm now help ESU students realize their dreams, the Werkheisers said. An added bonus ... the land Willard once owned and still adores will never be developed.

Now retired and enjoying their family, neighbors, friends, and church activities, the Werkheisers take things slower. And Willard, with a smile on his face and a loving glance to Evelyn, couldn't really ask for more.

"The sun comes up and the moon shines at night; I'm satisfied," he said. "That is heaven on earth."

Story by Caryn Wilkie


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