Old School Visit Retraces Life’s Journey

Going back helps you retrace the journey that led you to the inevitable life you have now.

It had been 48 years since I was a Texas Tech undergraduate. And now as we approached the football stadium filled with 50,000 or so Red Raider fans, I was more excited than I thought I’d be.

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The author with husband Jerry Coffee on the field at Jones AT&T Stadium at Texas Tech PHOTOS FROM SUSAN PAGE

Today Tech was hosting Oklahoma University, a powerhouse north-of-the-border rival that never fails to incite the fight in any Texan, no matter how many years a Tech-ex.

In the Panhandle’s expansive plains is the city of Lubbock, home to Texas Tech, friendly people, blowing dirt and this football stadium, where in 1965 I braved many tornado-strength winds and freezing rain to root on the Red Raiders and show off my new outfits, which were reduced to soggy rags after every first quarter. Jones Stadium (as it was then, now Jones AT&T Stadium) was born just after I was in 1947 and has been described as “one of the most electric game-day atmospheres in all of college football.” In 2010, Dave Curtis of The Sporting News said it was “the best home field advantage in all of college football.”

I was standing down on the field and, any minute now, the 400-member “Goin’ Band from Raiderland” would speed-march onto the field in a booming drumbeat cadence followed by the famous blackcaped Masked Rider, who would charge across the turf astride a shiny black steed.

And now here I was, seemingly eons away from that young girl who used to be me. It could’ve been my day here in Lubbock, Texas, I mused. After all, in 1966, I was “Miss Lubbock.” That’s right. Few to none would remember that fact, but I remembered, and on this day I could see clearly just how important that seemingly shallow and insignificant title would be to the future life I would lead.

But we weren’t in Lubbock because of my nostalgia. My husband Jerry Coffee, former seven-year Vietnam POW, was invited by the Texas Tech Vietnam Center and Archive to speak and also to be introduced mid-field at this game to represent all military veterans, as the university honored those who served our nation. The crowd’s standing ovation reminded me of the patriotic values I learned here on this campus, some that would later influence my life choices.

Out on the field, I proudly shot photo after photo of Jerry, looking like any journalist or, more likely, the doting wife. But no one watching could know that this moment triggered a retracing of the unlikely, often unsteady steps that took me from Miss Lubbock to Mrs. Coffee on a 48-year journey. Each step, I realized, led to the other in a circuitous yet certain path: Miss Lubbock became Miss Texas, who met Maj. John Ditto, a Marine pilot, at an air-show on her first official Miss Texas appearance.

Miss Texas later became Mrs. Ditto and lived the life of a military wife stationed in various places, one being Washington, D.C. John Ditto attended the National War College there, and his study partner was Jerry Coffee. When Mrs. Ditto became a widow a few years later, Jerry Coffee served as a pallbearer at John Ditto’s funeral and brought great comfort to her family. She moved back to Texas, but eventually couldn’t stand the wind, tornados, cold rain and stifling hot summers, so she moved to Hawaii. Jerry Coffee and his family lived in Hawaii. She remarried and became Susan Page, but that didn’t work out.

Eventually, when both were single, the former Miss Lubbock and Jerry Coffee became a couple and got married.

So I’ve concluded that I owe a lot to Texas Tech, including a wonderful husband, 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Go Red Raiders.

susanpagecoffee@gmail.com