Once upon a time…
It was 1943. It was an era filled with swing dance, zoot suits, Slinkys and the ever-expanding new technology of television, of course. It was at this time, in Maumee, Ohio that two people experienced love for the first time.
Think back, for a moment, to your rebellious teenage years. No matter what the decade is, it’s often there are two people who want to be together, with or without their parent’s approval.
This was the setting for the young romance of former St. Cloud State professor, Harold (Hal) Lieberman, who taught social science at the university for 30 years back when there was a Tri-College Program in the ’50s.
It was not only a time for love, but also war propaganda during World War II.
Hal, who originally was from Toledo, was a soldier in the army and was relocated to Rossford, Ohio Ordnance Depot, where POWs (prisoners of war) were being held.
Rossford was conveniently located next to Maumee, and that location was where Hal met Mary Rose (also known as Patsy) for the first time.
Hal explained, “As an army-enlisted man, I was stationed at the Rossford Ordnance Depot. One evening I went into a record store in downtown Toledo. Behind the counter was this cute blonde, whom I engaged in conversation. Next week, same thing.”
“I wanted to see if I could get her phone number. I did, and during the weeks I was on base and not working, I’d call her up and we would talk for over three hour each time.”
“A good deal of my free time was spent at 229 E. Dudley Street in Maumee.”
It was there, that a friendship blossomed into something more.
‘More’ led to Hal and Patsy spending much time together, listening to Glenn Miller records, many of which that they shared ownership, and making one another smile. He also took Patsy to her first Boston Symphony concert at the Toledo Museum of Art.
During Hal’s time in Rossford they were able to spend a year or so together, becoming nearly inseparable.
Although Patsy’s parents smiled outwardly, they harbored negative feelings towards Hal.
Hal later explained, “I think the father didn’t like me. He was very peculiar. He was anti-Black, anti-Catholic, anti-everything. And I was Jewish in culture. Her (Patsy’s) mother, although she sort of liked me, wasn’t going to have her daughter marry a Jewish guy. So that apparently was part of it.”
Ultimately, Patsy’s parents secretly wanted to separate the pair.
They found their opportunity Nov. 1, 1944, when Hal received the news he was going to be transferred to Aberdeen, MD. It was one of the army’s biggest schools that taught and trained soldiers to organize cannons and guns.
“You just do what you’re told in the army and go where they tell you to go,” Hal said.
Although they were separated, Hal attempted to send many letters to Patsy.
“I knew in advance that I was leaving, and we didn’t break up. I just left, and kept writing her letters and she wrote me letters.”
What Hal didn’t know, was that Patsy’s parents were intercepting all of Hal’s letters, ensuring she would not find out her was trying to contact her.
Six long months went by without Patsy receiving a letter from Hal. Patsy felt as though Hal no longer cared about her and wanted to break up.
During this time, a friend of Patsy’s named Bill was coming home from fighting overseas in Europe as a soldier in the war. They first met when Patsy was 16, and occasionally wrote letters to one another while he was overseas.
Bill was someone that Patsy’s parents approved of, and they quickly acted, pressuring Patsy into marrying him.
Feeling conflicted, confused and lonely, Patsy made one last attempt to contact Hal by writing him a letter explaining she was about to be married. A letter that was later believed to be a last-chance call, hoping Hal would respond or show up to stop the wedding.
“I didn’t know she wasn’t hearing from me, and thought I had broken up with her. Which was not true,” Hal said. “I knew she wasn’t sure if she wanted to marry this guy, but her parents were pressuring her.”
Not being aware that Patsy wasn’t receiving any of his letters, Hal was caught completely off guard when he received the letter that said his love was to be married to someone else.
“It was what we used to call in the army a ‘Dear John’ letter. Meaning it’s over,” Hal said. “The letter said she was getting married. So that was it.”
A lifetime went by and the two never were able to reconnect.
For Patsy, the carefree innocence of her teenage years with Hal became a precious memory.
Her husband Bill suffered severe Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) from fighting in the war. The young family also underwent difficult financial times, and was forced to move back into her parent’s home in order to survive.
One day, Patsy was cleaning out an old dresser drawer and found a bundle of letters addressed to her that she never received.
Upon hearing the truth about what happened, Patsy experienced a nervous breakdown.
One of Patsy’s daughters, Jessica Locke, later explained, “I think the betrayal by her parents, stuck with a husband who was seriously affected by the war and two babies in need night and day was just too much for her.”
It was a difficult time for Patsy, and she later shared the story with her six children about her lost love, Hal.
Jessica said, “Every day of our lives we heard, ‘I should have married Hal. I should have married Hal.’ The years went by and I wondered what had happened to him many times.”
“She definitely made a point of letting us know about Harold, and that she should’ve married him, so much so that we all felt like we knew him during our childhood years.”
Today, Hal is now 93-years old. His wife has passed away five years ago, and his children often ask him to write an autobiography of his life.
Agreeing with them, he began to chronicle his life, sifting through the memories from decades prior. He wrote about his first love, Patsy, and the time they shared together.
While writing about her, Hal decided to try to contact Patsy, to learn what had become of the woman he had loved. Online, he found an article one of her daughters had written about the accomplishments she completed before passing away in 1989.
He came across an Ohio address and decided to reach out by sending one of her daughters a letter that explained how he knew their mother a long time ago and how special their time together was.
Little did he know, when he wrote that letter, that Patsy’s children would know exactly who he was and were overjoyed to receive his letter.
They all began writing and calling back and forth, prompting two of the six children, Jessica and Becky, to make the trips from Ohio and Boston to Minnesota to meet their mother’s ‘one that got away.’
“So that is what happened, and we have been talking and writing. He now has this alternate family cause there’s six children. And his child support payments are off the roof,” Jessica said laughing.
Hal said, “It’s amazing to find an alternate family that I did not existed.”
Jessica said, “I knew I wanted to meet him. I knew I wanted to find out who was this man that our mother had spoken about for so many years. He’s exceeded my expectations. He’s sweet, kind, thoroughly intelligent, delightful and a very gracious host, we’ve had a great time.”
Now that he was able to hear the story from her daughters, Hal explained the shock he felt to learn the entire story of Patsy not receiving his letters and telling her children about him.
“I thought if they knew about me, it was just sort of their mother explaining, ‘well I had a boyfriend way back when…’ you know, the usual thing, that’s all. I never dreamed it was more than that.”
Becky Locke-Gagnon, another one of Patsy’s daughters who made the trip said that she found a family box containing documents that their mother had kept from Hal.
“I went through the box and she kept for all these years a silly little poem he had written for her, talking about kangaroos and a ‘skew’ and a ‘boo-hoo,’” she said laughing.
Jessica said, “It feels like we’ve come back to let him know she loved him so much that she made darn sure that we’d tell him when the time came. It was like she knew he would come looking and he would get the message. For us, we’re like, ‘yeah mom, we wish you had, but then of course we wouldn’t be here!”
“The great gift to Harold in contacting us was that we still held the intensity of the memory of her love for him and gave him closure as to why it ended so abruptly,” Jessica said. “For me personally, he is so much like the father I wanted and couldn’t have. So there has been great healing for both parties from this.”