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Centralia couple Gary and Kay Odegaard celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary this week on Thursday, June 8.
Gary Odegaard was raised on a dairy farm in Sumas with a politically active family. Kay Fifield grew up in Shoreline.
The duo met while studying education at Western Washington University in 1959. Kay’s roommate, Lois, was one of Gary’s childhood friends. Lois and Gary introduced one another to their current spouses.
Gary and Kay then took a “social dancing” physical education class together. They were together for five years before he popped the question.
“I was kind of slow,” Gary said. “She’s told me that she would have said ‘Yes’ a long time before.”
They were married in a Lutheran Church on June 8, 1963, before moving to Centralia for their careers in education. Gary taught high school-aged students in Rochester at Maple Lane School for juvenile inmates. Kay worked for Grand Mound School.
A few years later, the pair and their first son moved to Onalaska. Gary set up a reading lab program for students from second to 12th grade and Kay taught first grade in the Onalaska School District. Before the birth of their second son, Kay withdrew funds from her retirement savings.
Their sons were baptized in Onalaska’s Community Presbyterian Church.
In 1968, Gary ran for the state Senate. Kay was “bought out” of retirement by the Onalaska superintendent to take over the reading program, and soon after, became the chair of the Lewis County Democratic Party. After choosing not to serve a fourth term in 1980, Gary stepped in to take over the role.
During his time as an elected official, the couple began working for Centralia College in similar capacities. At first, Kay was Gary’s reading program coordinator substitute.
“They eventually saw she’s such a good teacher, they put her on a 60% contract even when I was there. I was afraid they were going to boot me out,” Gary said.
Kay eventually took a full-time position coordinating both the reading program and the school’s American Disabilities Act services.
In 2016, Centralia College renamed the Phoenix Center to the Phoenix Odegaard Center after the duo. The center teaches transitional classes, including on the English language, GED and high school completion, student success, and pre-college writing, reading and math.
“Gary and Kay Odegaard are great examples of what makes Centralia College great,” college President Bob Mohrbacher said at the time of the name change. “They have a tremendous dedication to this college and to our community.”
In 1997, the duo joined Westminster Presbyterian Church in Chehalis. Now, Gary, 83, and Kay, 82, continue to serve as active members, deacons and elders.
Asked what he’s learned most from his longtime wife, Gary said, “Caring for people and their needs. Perseverance.”
Their favorite things to do together have included traveling, camping, attending church and spending time with friends.
Their sons, Greg, 59, and Jeff, 55, both work as engineers.
They have five grandchildren who are old enough to be “helping pay for our Social Security,” Gary quipped, and two great-grandchildren.
In 2002, the couple bought a home in Yuma, Arizona, where they spent the last 21 winters. This winter was Kay and Gary’s final snowbird adventure as they sold their Arizona home earlier this year.
In Washington, every Friday, they visit a restaurant or park for a meal with their closest friends, often bringing a sack lunch to Lintott-Alexander Park and chatting for several hours.
They will hold a celebration for their anniversary with family and friends next week.
“She’s just very caring for her family and for people,” Gary said of his partner. “I’ve watched that over the years and how that comes back to you to help yourself, too, when you care for other people. We both tried to do that over the years.”