| Willard Ray Heath ‘42 and Helen Letitia Mead ‘70
ecently, Missouri Valley College Alumni Director, Jennifer Hiller, had the pleasure of hearing a Valley love story and memories from John Heath, son of Willard Ray Heath ‘42 and Helen Letitia Mead ‘70. Like so many others, Valley love stories tell about the bond formed between two individuals who, without Missouri Valley College, may have never had their paths cross. Here is John’s account of his parents’ time at Missouri Valley. Mom and Dad met at Missouri Valley in a history class during Mom’s first year. Once she found out that he played football, she began attending some of his games, and their love story unfolded from there. The two married on September 6, 1942 in Marshall at her family’s home. My Dad, Willard Ray Heath, grew up on a family farm in Smithville, Missouri, and was one of ten kids and the first to attend a four-year college. While at MVC, Dad was a member of Alpha Delta Kappa fraternity, was the yearbook sports editor, president of the V- Club and an all-conference football lineman, graduating with a degree in chemistry. Dad’s last game his senior year was December 6, 1941, the day before Pearl Harbor which changed the lives of many of their college friends. His coach was the legendary Volney Ashford who was inducted into the National Football Hall of Fame in 2009 for leading a 41 game winning streak from 1941-1948. One of my memories in Marshall was seeing the movie ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ at the Marshall Cinema with Dad and Coach Ashford in the summer of 1962 when I was twelve and vacationing in Missouri with my parents and sister.
Dad enlisted in the Navy beginning at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Waukegan, Illinois, then on to Columbia University NYC Officer Candidate School. He was commissioned Lieutenant Junior Grade on the USS Conner Destroyer in the Pacific. After his Naval career, he became an award winning executive with Allstate Insurance working in the Indianapolis, Philadelphia and New York offices. Dad passed away on August 23, 1965. My Mom, Helen Letitia Mead grew up in Slater and graduated from Marshall High School. She was a member of Valkyr (local sorority), a WSGA town representative, acted in school plays and was both sophomore and junior queen. Having left MVC before finishing her degree, Mom returned to campus to complete her education and graduated Cum Laude in 1970 majoring in English. She went on to teach at my alma mater Garden City High School on Long Island for 35 years and was voted three times as Teacher of the Year (as a substitute!). Today Mom lives on Long Island with my sister Marilyn. It was important for my sister and I to return to Marshall and visit Missouri Valley College. And it was interesting to discover that there are three prominent places on campus named for our parents’ friends. The Malcolm Center for Student Life which is dedicated in honor of the father of Mom’s pal Bill Malcolm ’42, the Grover C. Redford Memorial Gymnasium named for one of Dad’s Viking football teammates and Volney C. Ashford Stadium commemorating his coach who later became a close friend. This added an extra dimension of familiarity and affection for their college. Marilyn and I wanted to see with our own eyes and experience a bit of what brought our parents together. We returned in early April this year and had the pleasure of meeting President Bonnie Humphrey and I reconnected with old friend, MVC Trustee John Pelzer ’70. We enjoyed a lovely day seeing the beautiful campus while literally walking down memory lane. Marilyn and I were both so glad we came back to this special place "where it all started."
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