The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

WSU Love Story: WSU alumni celebrate 50 years of marriage after untraditional execution of engagement tradition

Candle tradition with a twist resulted in 59 years together, 57 in marriage
John and Jan Salisbury on a cruise for their 50th wedding anniversary seven years ago
COURTESY OF JOHN SALISBURY
John and Jan Salisbury on a cruise for their 50th wedding anniversary seven years ago

When WSU alumni John and Jan Salsbury first met their freshman year, they were seeing other people. But, a date at a residence hall dance changed everything.

Jan said they didn’t know each other well at first; they had an English class together their first year at WSU but did not make a connection until a year later.

John said he met a lot of girls in his dorm his freshman year, but during his first date with Jan at a Valentine’s Day dance, he was unsure of how to act.

“She was so completely honest,” he said. “She was so opposite [of me], it was kind of fun.”

After the dance, they continued dating and went to the Compton Union Building multiple times to share a soda with two straws throughout the relationship.

Eventually, John spontaneously proposed, and Jan agreed to marry him on a whim. He told Jan he planned to give her a ring for her birthday that April, but made arrangements for Valentine’s Day that year to participate in the tradition of passing a candle around.

The candle tradition involves a girl in a dorm or sorority who gets engaged and the building residents passing around a candle with a ring and hook on it, John said. When the ring is passed to the girl, she comes out from the crowd and announces her engagement.

John said he wanted to put his own spin on this tradition. When the ring passed down to Jan, one of her friends took the candle and announced their engagement for her, which took her by surprise because she was not expecting it until April.

They had their wedding the following fall and have been married for 57 years. John said they are still Cougars; they have contributed to multiple scholarships and have 14 family members who have graduated from WSU as well.

John said while they want to visit campus, he has a type of cancer where he has to get treated multiple times a week because he needs magnesium infusions every couple of days. But, John and Jan have traveled to multiple different parts of the world in past years.

“Things change going through life,” he said. “WSU, I would go back and drop the hat, and if nothing else, go get a huckleberry ice cream from Ferdinand’s.”

John said while they were dating, Jan fit in with everybody and helped raise his grades while he was on academic probation.

His favorite memory while they were together was when the two, along with some friends, built a cart and pulled a toilet on it for over 90 miles, he said.

“[I loved] being with her, realizing what kind of fun you can have without having to do a lot of drinking … and by golly, she helped me raise my grades,” he said.

Jan said the biggest change she has seen since she was at WSU was how many more buildings there are, and the residence hall she lived in as a freshman is not there anymore.

She had seen a few changes to residence halls while she was still at WSU, but she and John were married by their senior year, so they were already living together in a small apartment, she said.

The two lived on campus when John got out of the military in the early ’70s, Jan said. The military had allowed him an early out, so he decided to go back to WSU to get a degree in education, and they lived at WSU with their 4-year-old and newborn sons.

The couple has lived in Oregon City, Oregon, for the past 50 years, but will soon be moving to a senior center just a few miles away in Canby, Oregon, John said.

“I’ve been blessed to be with this woman for 59 years of companionship and 57 years of marriage, and that’s the way I think all couples should be,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for a better companion.”

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About the Contributor
ALEXANDRIA OSBORNE, Editor-in-chief
Alexandria started working for the Evergreen in October 2020 as a news reporter and eventually hopped around to the roots/life, opinion and culture sections. She was a copy editor for three semesters beginning in January 2021 and was the Life editor in fall 2022. She was the copy chief for the summer and fall 2023 semesters, and is currently the editor-in-chief for the spring 2024 semester. She is from Tri-Cities, WA, and is always writing in her free time.