Raymond and Nina Cowan aren’t sure their life is remarkable enough for a newspaper story.
Oh things have happened down through the years — nice memories, or little things here and there that years later turn out to be a sort of brush with fame. But, Raymond tells a reporter with a notebook who showed up at a reception in the Cowans’ honor, “We haven’t done anything too remarkable, I don’t think. We just did the best we could with what we had.”
They were born and raised in Milburn, in McCulloch County.
“Do you know where Milburn is?” Ray asked the reporter. “Not too many people do.”
It was a good place to grow up, for them, though. Married now for 66 years, they smile affectionately at each other, and asked if they were high school sweethearts, Nina’s face lights up in a smile and Ray whispers in a confessional tone, “We were grade school sweethearts.”
They graduated high school in 1940, married in 1942 and had been married just a couple of months when Ray enlisted in the Army Air Corps.
“The unit we were attached to was stationed in China,” Ray remembers. “Our assignment was to intercept the Japanese code. My job was to get the messages to Gen. (Claire L.) Chennault — head of the Flying Tigers.”
Messages had to be taken to Chennault in person, Ray Cowan said. “They couldn’t risk the information getting in the hands of the wrong person.”
Home from the war, Ray went to college at Howard Payne, graduated and got his first teaching job at Zephyr.
“It was a little old school, like where we were from, and we were happy, very happy there. I still have a very fond place in my heart for Zephyr,” Ray Cowan said.
“But we only stayed a year at Zephyr. A job at Santa Anna opened up and it paid $300 more a year. In those days, you’d move for $300 more a year,” Nina said.
And that’s how it was in their early teaching days. From Santa Anna the Cowans moved to Wingate — close enough to Abilene for Nina Cowan to commute to Hardin-Simmons and get her degree. And she became a teacher. She taught first grade at Wingate, Blackwell and Abilene Jackson.
Raymond Cowan, meanwhile, tried his hand at administration, but the classroom was where he loved to be, and went back to that after two years. Then for years he coached and taught at Abilene Madison Junior High.
Then, after 30 years teaching, Ray Cowan went to work at Hendrick Home for Children.
“We had some good years there,” he said softly.
The Cowans raised two daughters, who followed their parents and became educators themselves.
Their oldest daughter, Sandra Rha, died of breast cancer in 2001. She had been the school counselor at Norman Elementary in Abilene.
Their younger daughter is a principal at Fayetteville, Ark., and Ray and Nina are packing up, selling their home, and moving to Fayetteville to live near her.
Since his retirement from Hendrick, Ray Cowan has worked at local funeral homes. On June 24, the staff at Davis-Morris Funeral Home honored the couple with a reception.
“When we got here, to the party, a lady came up to me and asked me if I knew who she was. I knew something was familiar around her eyes, but I couldn’t say I knew her,” Ray Cowan said.
The woman had been a student of his at Zephyr, and Ray remembered then how she’d been a tiny little girl. Her family had been poor, he said, and the other children weren’t very nice to her.
“I knew she needed love,” Ray said, “but there wasn’t time or really a way to do very much. But I remember I would take her hands in mine — she was little and light — and she just smiled. I tried to do that every day.
“She told me today, all these years later, how much that meant to her. I can’t tell you how that touched me. It means a lot to know maybe what you did in your life made a difference.”