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Love still blooms, 60 years later

Former prisoner of war Frank Driver meets nursing student Jeanie and signs on for six decades plus
by: John Klicker, Jeanie and Frank Driver reminisce in their Corbett home on Friday, April 13. The Drivers say they’re proud to be still thinking and living independently in the home they built in the late 1940s.

"We are still in our house, thank God,' says Jeanie Driver, married 60 years on May 10.

She and husband, Frank, were newlyweds when they built their home just outside of Springdale, adding on rooms as three children came along. Even pregnant, Jeanie helped pour the concrete. The house was first planned on the hill where the view is, but 'some of the worst winters ever' in 1947 and 1948 caused them to hunker down below the slope out of the wind.

Their home nests behind a sculpted hedge, in a lavish garden of pink and white, the kind of place that should have a big old tree with a swing in the yard. And it does.

Inside it is warm and tidy and filled with treasures of people who lead interesting lives. Guests browse it like a museum to spot the letter that Frank Driver got from President Harry Truman, a welcome home after Frank's three years, three months and 10 days as a prisoner of the Japanese in World War II. In the laundry room is a certificate from a horticulturist who named a daffodil 'Jeanie Driver.'

Jeanie: 'Just before we went up to Seattle to get married the clutch went out of the car and it cost $40, about half what we could afford. We got married in a tiny wedding, had a little reception and then drove as far as Tacoma where we rented a motel. We overslept and had to pay extra. What with the clutch, we were pretty much out of money. We ate our wedding cake. All of it. We weren't proud.'

The Drivers were married May 10, 1947. 'Propinquity' brought them together, Jeanie says. She was a nursing student at Good Samaritan Hospital when Frank first spotted her. He worked there in the mechanical department, still recovering from the malnutrition he suffered as a POW.

'He asked me if I was a student and when I said yes, he said he'd like to date me but that I wasn't worth losing his job over,' Jeanie remembers. Another old photo shows Jeanie at her capping ceremony in the days when nurses wore stiffly starched caps. As a full graduate she was legal to date, in Frank's view.

Neighbor Dennis Bryson describes the Drivers as a great comedy team. 'If you remember the radio show about The Bickersons in the 1950s, Frank and Jeanie would put them to shame.'

Jeanie: 'I remember when Frank was teaching me to drive.'

Frank, holding his head in his hands: 'Oh, that was awful.'

Jeanie: 'My sister said then, 'That was Clue No. 2,' and Frank's mom said, 'If you two really mean to get together, stop the lessons. She was my best friend.' '

When Frank's mother, Edna Mae Driver, died in 1961, Jeanie brought a native maple from her yard and planted it front of their house. That is where the swing is. The garden is a museum, and Jeanie, respected as a horticulturist, knows the origins of each plant.

As a concession to her 81 years, this year she will not plant a garden, relying on the prolific produce offered by her neighbors. She no longer raises the daffodils, except for fun. She became a grower in 1984 when Corbett's pioneer growers, Stella and Murray Evans, sold her part of their stock.

'We were growing garlic at the time,' Jeanie remembers. 'I figured daffodils would be more fun than garlic.' She became a regional director for the American Daffodil Society. Daffodils and her nursing career in urology (she was president of the American Urological Association) gave the couple opportunities to travel.

At first, Frank worked nights so he could build their house. Later he would join American Sterilizer, traveling to various hospitals. The first part of their house was meant to be a garage and was 20-by-20 feet. Jeanie points to the place where their bed nook was and remembers when the pump froze that supplied their water from the creek below.

War and post-war, says Corbett historian Clarence Mershon, infused Corbett with new blood and new residents like the Drivers.

'There were two influences there, the CCCs (Civilian Conservation Corps) had camps that brought new men into the community. Boy, did they (Corbett women) latch on to them, then the second infusion was returning veterans.'

Mershon interviewed Frank Driver for a local history on war veterans, eliciting stories of Bataan and Corregidor that Jeanie had never heard. Driver, a man of sparse, but pithy words, was in the U.S. Navy dug in on Corregidor when the Americans surrendered on May 6, 1942. He joined thousands of prisoners in a POW camp at Camp Cabanatuan before being shipped to Manchuria for forced labor in a machine tool factory.

'I never did know what we were making,' Frank says, 'but we did what we could to foul it up.'

Rescued by the Russians at war's end, he was shipped to Saipan aboard a vessel that endured a three-day typhoon and was struck by a mine. In Guam for medical treatment, Frank remembers that he and others heard of places giving away free beer.

'We went and the first guy I saw was my cousin.'

Though he was partially disabled for a time, Frank Driver wanted and got what everybody wanted after the war - a life, a wife, kids and a bit of land. They bought 5 acres in Corbett for $500 an acre.

'This isn't in the boondocks,' Frank protests, then reconsiders and says, 'Well, maybe it was then.'

'Frank and many of the WWII vets … formally organized the fire department in 1949,' Bryson says. 'Frank has told me stories of the entire department spending countless drill nights just doing simple body work to fix all of the leaks in the 1939 water tender so that it could move down the road and arrive at a destination with some water still in the tank. It took two people to drive it down the Corbett Hill - one to drive and one to hold the brake.'

Frank Driver was a Boy Scout leader before he had a son of his own. He served on the fire department board and joined the VFW. Jeanie worked with Girl Scouts and Camp Fire girls, was a room mother and did community nursing.

'Everybody volunteered for everything in those days,' Frank says.

Their son, Frank Stuart Driver, who died five years ago, twice served in Vietnam. The Drivers' grandson, Travis Ledbetter, a U.S. Marine, has just returned from Iraq.

'It is hard for me to explain, sometimes,' Jeanie muses, 'how I support our troops but not this war.'

Still thinking on her own, living independently and remembering to be appreciative when people offer help. 'That's what we're doing,' Jeanie says.

Their two daughters, Catherine Driver and Laurie Ledbetter, suggest notes, cards, photos and reminiscences in celebration of the anniversary and warn against gifts, saying their parents 'don't need any more stuff.'

'If you are totally committed to a gift,' they suggest donations to two education scholarships that the Drivers fund through the Corbett Education Foundation, 35800 E. Historic Columbia River Highway, Corbett, 97019.