Kathleen Irwin celebrated her 102nd birthday in January, at a party at Rockwood Retirement Center in Spokane, where she resides. She wore a Cougar Football-themed cardigan and crimson and gray earrings to mark the occasion, and to convey her unwavering loyalty to Washington State University.
Inside Kathleen’s apartment, a treasured keepsake hangs in a frame on a wall. The memento notes the year 1994, when Kathleen and her husband, Claude, were recognized and honored as Benefactors of WSU for their generous commitment to students through the Claude and Kathleen Irwin Regents Scholarship.
For the past 20 years, the scholarship has assisted full-time students who excel academically, are active in their community and school, and who qualify for financial aid. Recipients have gone on to graduate with the highest academic honors, with a few earning dual degrees. One of the scholarship’s past recipients, Stephanie Logan, graduated summa cum laude in May 2015 with a degree in political science and a job at the Congressional Research Service (CRS) in Washington, D.C. Stephanie was offered the job after completing a semester-long internship at CRS, a division of the Library of Congress dedicated to providing non-partisan research to Members of Congress. She is now pursuing a master’s in public administration at American University while working at the U.S. Department of Justice – Office of the Inspector General in Washington, D.C.
The Claude and Kathleen Irwin Regents Scholarship was awarded to Stephanie during her senior year. She had been playing her final season on the WSU women’s volleyball team with no athletic scholarship. “I felt very fortunate,” she said. “I was able to be involved in the academic community as well as athletics.” The scholarship made it possible for Stephanie to engage in activities associated with her studies at WSU and directly supported her during the internship at CRS.
Stephanie’s path at WSU matches the vision articulated by Claude and Kathleen when they created the scholarship. They wanted to help students who followed Claude’s footsteps by being political science and pre-law majors. During her junior and senior years, Stephanie was an intern at WSU’s Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service, where she helped organize and plan events, such as “Coffee and Politics” and the Foley Distinguished Lecture. She also was a member of the WSU Mock Trial Team.
Growing up during The Great Depression, Claude and Kathleen believed that college was the only way to achieve their career goals. Claude wanted to be a lawyer; Kathleen set her sights on teaching. Going to college, they thought, also would transform their lives.
Preserved on the Benefactor plaque that hangs in Kathleen’s apartment is this quote from Claude: “I’ve always felt an obligation to Washington State University. They took a green kid and made a goal-oriented adult out of him. WSU played the most important role in my development as a person. It just lifted me right up out of the backwoods…and into real life.”
Claude and his twin brother Cliff grew up in Round Valley and Old Meadows, Idaho, and there was little available money. When the time came to go to high school, the family moved to Clarkston, Washington. In 1930, Claude entered Washington State College (WSC) after a friend offered him room and board in exchange for working in his blacksmith shop. Throughout his four years at WSC, Claude worked hard, doing various jobs around campus to support himself. During senior year, he did research for Dr. Claudius O. Johnson, professor of political science and one-time department chair. Dr. Johnson encouraged Claude to pursue his dream of a career in law.
Kathleen grew up in Spokane, Washington; Coronado, California; and Lake Forest Park, Washington. She attended the University of Washington and Cheney Normal School (now Eastern Washington University) as a freshman and University of Idaho as a sophomore. She enrolled at WSC her junior year, 1936-37, at the urging of her mother. She pledged Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and made friendships that framed her lifetime connection to WSU.
Kathleen met Claude in Seattle at a mutual friend’s wedding. Claude was attending UW’s law school at the time and Kathleen was a senior at UI pursuing a degree in elementary education. After she graduated, Kathleen became a teacher at Orchard Prairie Elementary School in east Spokane. During that time, Claude and Kathleen began dating. They were married June 16, 1940, in Spokane, three years after Claude had reached his goal: he earned a Juris Doctorate degree from UW, passed the state bar exam, and started his career in Wenatchee. At the time of their marriage, Claude was practicing law in Pullman.
Their first child, daughter Kay, was born in 1941. The following year, Claude was elected prosecuting attorney of Whitman County. Two years later, he was commissioned a Naval Lieutenant Junior Grade and served in the Pacific Theatre. After VJ Day, Claude was assigned to the Navy’s Investigator General’s Office at Pearl Harbor, where he participated in legal work of the Truman committee on naval work and war crimes. He returned to Pullman in 1946 and resumed service as Whitman County Prosecuting Attorney. In 1947, their second child, Claude Jr., was born. Claude Sr. soon returned to private practice in Pullman.
Claude and Kathleen loved the Pullman community and were members of several civic organizations. They were active in the Democratic Party, which provided opportunities to meet future governors and presidents. Among their friends and neighbors were faculty, staff, coaches, and administrators at WSU.
The University became their social life, daughter Kay recalls, and her parents enjoyed dinner parties in homes and gatherings on campus with a veritable “Who’s who” of WSU’s golden era. Among their friends and neighbors were boxing coach Ike Deeter and his wife, Claire; swim coach Doug Gibb and his wife, Irene; basketball coach Jack Friel and his wife, Catherine; baseball coaches Buck Bailey and Bobo Brayton and Bobo’s wife, Eileen; track coach Jack Mooberry; football coaches Babe Hollingberry, Jim Sutherland, and Jim Sweeney; athletic directors Fred Bohler and Stan Bates; director of alumni relations Eugene (Pat) Patterson, and past Alumni Association Executive Director Keith Lincoln.
Wally Friel, Jack’s son, was a partner in Claude’s law firm until becoming a judge for Whitman County Superior Court in 1989.
Claude and Kathleen’s most rewarding years in Pullman are those with deep connections to WSU. In 1948, Claude was elected to the board of directors of the Alumni Association and became president three years later. He served on the committee that selected C. Clement French as WSU’s sixth president. Kay says that the University’s seventh president, Glenn Terrell, was among her parents’ closest friends.
Claude and Kathleen supported Cougar Athletics and political science programs at WSU. In the 1970s, Claude helped raise funds to rebuild Martin Stadium and expand seating capacity at the stadium. The couple attended countless athletic events on campus and every 50-year class reunion at WSU for 20 years. In 1994, they celebrated Claude’s 60th class reunion. Two years later, Claude received the Alumni Achievement Award in recognition of his distinguished leadership and loyal service to WSU and the Alumni Association.
The couple traveled to Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Mexico, and Alaska. Claude also led hunting and fishing excursions to Alaska, Africa, and New Zealand, and in Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. He fished with Judge John Denoo of Colfax and in 1955, accompanied Pullman-area farmer and civic leader Gordon Klemgard on an African safari. Kay says Claude hunted on horseback with Bobo Brayton and a few of Bobo’s assistants, and eventually gave his horse to Bobo. Her dad fished and hunted with Marty Faulkner, who taught computer science at WSU in the 1960s and 1970s before moving to Bozeman, Montana, to teach at Montana State. Their traditional excursions to fish, hunt, canoe, and hike continued through the years. Kay eventually joined in on those trips and today, remains in touch with Marty and his partner, Judy, at their home in Bozeman, Montana.
In 1989, Claude retired from practicing law. He devoted a majority of his career to helping clients with tax and estate planning. He was elected a Fellow of The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (formerly known as The American College of Probate Counsel) and received a Washington State Bar Commendation Award for his work in preparing the state’s Modern Probate Law. The Pullman law firm of Irwin & Friel became Irwin, Friel & Myklebust, and is currently Irwin, Myklebust, Savage & Brown.
Claude and Kathleen moved to Rockwood Retirement Community in Spokane in 1993. Claude passed away in 2005, five months after the couple marked 65 years of marriage. Kathleen continues to live at their apartment in Spokane and loves to greet Cougars who come to visit.