The year is 1944. In New York City, the Metropolitan Opera House is playing its first jazz concert, featuring the talents of Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday. The film Casablanca wins three Academy Awards: one for Best Picture, one for Best Director, and one for Best Adapted Screenplay. In France, The Allied Forces land on the beaches of Normandy in a historical military assault. In his Thanksgiving Address, President Eisenhower tells Americans, “Let’s thank God for Higgins Industries.”
A perilous time, this was a period marked by great fear and uncertainty. For Rita Bush, this was the beginning of a new chapter of her life.
It was the year that Rita began Southeastern. When she enrolled, she had no intention of becoming a music major. In fact, it was not until her professor, Ralph Pottle, who knew she played piano, stopped her one day and asked if she would like to switch her major to music. So that’s what Rita did.
On any given day, this event—a professor speaking to a student—may not seem like anything of significance. One could say it was pure coincidence Rita and Pottle crossed paths. However, that day, she says, “was life-changing.”
Had Pottle not stopped to ask her to consider becoming a music major, she “would not have met her husband.”
When he was finally old enough, Milton Bush joined the Navy, where he then trained to become a pilot as a member of the Naval Air Corps. At the time, WWII was coming to a close. He was only in the Navy for a year before he was sent back home in 1945 once the war had ended.
After being sent home, Milton decided on a whim to accompany a friend on a visit to Southeastern. That day, he witnessed a performance by the college’s orchestra and fell in love. It was then that he decided he would attend Southeastern and major in music.
Once Rita and Milton met, the two became friends and traveled in the same friendship circle for a while. Rita recounted stories of her many evenings spent out with friends. Together, they would all go down to the train station and grab a bite to eat, enjoying the sweet freedom often only experienced in college.
“Life was very simple back then,” Rita said.
Rita explained that at the time, most people didn’t realize the significance of the war. To her, now looking back, it’s amazing how WWII changed the U.S. She recalled having to collect metal as part of an effort to support the government’s building of ships, airplanes, and other such equipment.
Southeastern itself accommodated veterans from the war. The director of the Center for Southeast Louisiana Studies, Dr. Samuel Hyde, said that Southeastern “[tried] to make sure that everybody, no matter what they had done during the war, felt welcome.” He continued, “My understanding is that they worked to accommodate people and make college accessible to them in a way that had been unprecedented to them in this era.”
Despite the ongoing war, Rita said that in truth she felt no real hardship. Thankfully, the war came to an end as she began college, and her late husband never had to go off to fight.
Listening to Rita recount her story, I felt moved by the beauty of fate and the profound impact that a simple encounter can have. Fate had a way of affecting my life, so much so it is the reason I believe in it today. My own parents are Southeastern sweethearts. Fate is what led to my father, at the last second, getting a spot in Louisiana history, the very same class my mother was in. Had the class not become available, perhaps my parents never would have met, and thus I would never have been born.
Had Pottle never run into Rita and convinced her to switch her major, would she ever have met her husband? Had Milton never decided to visit Southeastern and seen its music program, would he ever have met his wife?
Fate seems to have played a role in their lives too.
The two were married in 1952. Rita described the life her husband gave her as “just wonderful.” Sadly, Milton passed away on Wednesday, January 23, 2019. He was 93 years old.
Rita said that her husband had “such a good attitude.” It was one of the things that attracted her to him. “He was always the same,” she recalled. “He was always pleasant, friendly, and agreeable. I was very fortunate to meet my husband because I’ve had a wonderful life with him.”
Rita and her husband Milton are a reminder of the light that can be found even amidst the darkness. They are a reminder of the simple beauty of fate—and of the countless lives throughout generations that have been forever changed beginning on Southeastern’s campus.