A Penn Romance
By Arthur S. Jensen | On July 31, 1935, 13-year-old Betty Reed of Morrisville, Pennsylvania, picked up the Trenton Times, the newspaper of the big city across the Delaware River. There on the front page she saw the photo of an Eagle Scout who was being sent to the first American National Scout Jamboree. The Scout had just completed his freshman year at Penn.
She thought he looked handsome, so she cut out the photo. For four years it sat on her bureau, where she looked at it every morning when she got up and every evening before she went to bed.
When Betty was about to graduate from high school, she thought, “That’s kid stuff,” tucked the clipping in her yearbook, and forgot about it.
Betty wanted to go to Penn as a pre-med student, but her father refused to pay for medical school. “You’re too pretty,” he said. “You’ll get married before you have finished two years in college.” The Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, just a few blocks north of Penn, offered a cheaper and shorter program. Her father agreed to send her there if she commuted from home.
One morning, on October 17, 1939, she barely made the train out of Trenton. She was the last to board the crowded Eight-o’clocker. She walked through four cars that were completely filled. In the last car there were only two vacant seats: one alongside a corpulent fellow, the other alongside a young man with his nose in a notebook. This young man had recently earned his master’s degree in physics at Penn, and was continuing there to pursue his doctorate. Ten minutes into the trip he turned to her and said, “You really ought to be studying.”
“I did all my homework last night, I’ll have you know,” was her curt response.
“But college is much harder than high school,” he insisted. “Doing your homework is not enough. ”
“I know how to study,” she informed him. “I was valedictorian of my high school. I’ll mind my own business, and thank you to mind yours!”
They both got off at 30th Street Station. He moved to walk her through the station to the trolley, but she put him off, saying, “I’ll go my own way, and if I never see you again it will be too soon!”
A few mornings later, she was late again. Just as she reached the top of the stairs, with the platform cleared, the conductor called out: “All abooard?”
There at the bottom of the stairway was that same Penn student. “Hurry,” he yelled, and then went to stand with one foot inside the train. She ran and boarded just before the train pulled out.
Through six cars he followed her, finding no seats. Passengers who knew him offered smiles and winks.
“Hello, Art, not bad.”
“Hi there, Art; woo, woo!”
It was downright embarrassing.
Finally, in the last car she turned to him and said, “I think we have to take separate seats.”
“Here are two across the aisle,” he answered. He asked her nameLillian, which he immediately shortened to “Lee”and learned where she went to school. Before they parted, they had a date for Sunday after lunch.
When Art met her parents soon afterwards, he was surprised to learn they called her Betty. It turned out she was named after two grandmothers: Lillian Elizabeth. Remembering Queen Elizabeth, the good Queen Bess, he immediately shortened it to Bess, his queen.
Nearly every morning they were on the Eight-o’clocker together. By December she was admonishing him not to talk so much; they needed to study instead!
Bess often visited and did her studying in Art’s basement lab in the Physics Building. With her encouragement, he earned his doctorate in 1941 under Professors Louis N. Ridenour and I. Clyde Cornog. They were married that August, and he was soon ordered as an ensign to the physics faculty of the U.S. Naval Academy for the duration of World War II.
Early in 1945, after their two-year-old twin boys were tucked in bed, the couple sat on the couch reminiscing, leafing through her 1939 high-school yearbook. A certain newspaper clipping of an Eagle Scout fell out. “Oh, don’t look at that,” Bess gasped. Ignoring her plea, Art reached down and picked it up. They looked at it together. She was as surprised as he was, and they kissed fervently in thankful prayer. Here she was married to the guy!
This Penn romance lasted for 65 years until Bess passed away in Art’s arms while he sang love songs to her on September 25, 2004.
Dr. Arthur S. Jensen Ed’38 G’39 Gr’41, now Captain, U.S. Navy (retired) is a physicist and electronic-imaging inventor with 25 patents. He taught physics at the U.S. Naval Academy, and later worked for RCA Laboratories in Princeton, and the Westinghouse Defense & Electronic Center in Baltimore.
|©2006 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 06/28/06