A legacy of student support: Myrtle Fulfs

Myrtle Stout Fulfs knows the value of an education.

More than 20 years ago, Myrtle joined her husband Robert in helping animal science students at Washington State University pay for their education. After Robert, a dedicated Coug, passed away in 2003, she continued their legacy, funding the Robert and Myrtle Fulfs Endowed Scholarship in Animal Sciences.

Myrtle Fulfs
Myrtle Fulfs of Pullman, an endowment supporter of the WSU Department of Animal Sciences, holds the bottle that held her message along the bank of the Snake River for five decades.

“I want to help, and I know there are students who need help,” said Myrtle.

Born in 1924, Myrtle grew up in a farm community a few miles south of Uniontown, Wash. She attended the one-room Hall School with as many as 35 classmates, doing well enough that her teacher decided to move her up a grade. In 1941, at age 17, Myrtle graduated from Colton High School.

Myrtle had ideas of attending university and becoming a teacher. But her father decided that nearby Washington State College (today’s WSU), then crowded with soldiers attending classes, was no place for his daughter. Instead, Myrtle attended business school in nearby Lewiston, Idaho. That led to a secretary job at the Zimmerly Air Transport Co. in Clarkston, Wash, where her father’s hopes of keeping her away from young soldiers came to naught. World War II was on, and at Zimmerly airport, Myrtle met hundreds of cadets training to become navy pilots.

Message in a bottle

While working in Clarkston, Myrtle took a boat ride up the Snake River and launched a message in a bottle that, decades later, gave her a moment of national fame.

On a spur of the moment, she wrote a note on a blank check from Security State Bank of Colton, sealed it in a Singer sewing machine oil bottle, and tossed it into the river.

“To who ever finds this, I’m a lonesome young lassie 19 years old,” looking for a dark man with a good bank account. “I am a good cook about 5 foot 4 inches tall, blue eyes, nice, well proportioned girl. If interested, write me a note.”

Once launched, Myrtle forgot all about the note—until it was found, 56 years later, by a 16-year-old Clarkston boy named Luke Jackson, in a sandbar near Asotin, Wash.

The story made the local newspaper, then the national news. That summer, Luke and Myrtle were interviewed in New York City by the NBC Today Show’s Katie Couric. Friends far and wide wrote Myrtle to share their excitement at seeing her on television.

“I was a celebrity for a while,” said Myrtle. “It kind of overwhelmed me!”

Agriculture supporter

In 1945, Myrtle married Robert Fulfs. Together, they farmed wheat near Pullman for more than 50 years, raising three children, Marilyn, John and Robynn.

Farm life was always busy, but “we were brought up learning how to work,” said Myrtle. She remembers cooking meals for busy harvesters in an abandoned house in the fields and occasionally driving farm trucks to help her husband.

Robert, who earned a degree in animal husbandry from WSC in 1938, was a strong supporter of local and state agriculture and the university. A regular contributor to 4-H and FFA programs and the Department of Animal Sciences, he received the WSU Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1998.

“Robert was a very progressive farmer,” Myrtle remembered. “He was interested in young people getting back into farming.” Together, she and Robert started the endowment, using some of Myrtle’s investment earnings.

Along with their initial commitment, made just before Robert’s death, Myrtle recently renewed her endowment with a gift, ensuring $1,100 in annual scholarships.

“Students should value the opportunity to get an education,” she said.

“Scholarship gifts make a tremendous difference for our students,” said Kristen Johnson, interim chair of the Department of Animal Sciences. “They’re an investment in future leaders, who will improve animal and human lives. Myrtle’s generosity betters our society, changing lives, one student at a time.”

Her life and education took a different path before she made her WSU connection. Yet Myrtle has always strongly valued the benefits of education.

“It’s a part of my being,” she said.

• Learn more about CAHNRS scholarships and donors.