By TIM ENGLE
Courtesy of The Kansas City Star
17 February 2007
It’s actually a public bench, but Mary Corwin feels a little proprietary about it.
If your posterior is planted there, and Mary is visiting Loose Park, she’s likely to call you out.
“Do you know whose bench you’re sitting on?” she’ll ask. “That’s my bench!”
But no, she doesn’t want you to move. Folks have offered. Instead, Mary would rather direct your attention to the bench’s small plaque —
EV & MARY CORWIN
LOVED EACH OTHER
AND THIS VIEW. ENJOY!
— and reminisce a bit about her late husband and their 58 years of marriage.
It wasn’t love at first sight. “I guess it grew,” Mary says, looking pretty in a denim jumper, a walker parked in front of her easy chair.
At 92, she can’t remember every detail of her life with Ev. Still, it’s not hard to see that she’s nimble in mind and body. In the wake of breaking a hip — “Wanna see the scar?” she jokes — she returned to her Country Club Plaza apartment in January after spending just two weeks in a nursing home. A bit more than a week later she is getting around her apartment without the walker.
It’s undoubtedly just a matter of time before she’ll again be strolling the few blocks to Loose Park to admire her bench, which looks out over the Laura Conyers Smith Municipal Rose Garden. She always wipes down the bench, “even underneath.”
Mary’s friend Beth Morrison “bought” the black metal bench for her three years ago, for Mary’s 90th birthday. That day, August 7, 2004, Morrison and her husband-to-be, Matt Hoey, surprised Mary en route to dinner with a swing by Loose Park.
As the plaque points out, the rose garden was a favorite spot of Mary and Ev Corwin’s.
Mary met Ev, short for Everett, at Dawson & Co., a dress wholesaler at Ninth and Broadway downtown.
Mary was from Salisbury, Missouri. Ev was from Ottawa, Kansas.
She, an alumna of a secretarial school on the Plaza, had landed a job in the mailroom, correcting mailing lists.
He, nine years her senior, was head of the advertising department. At the time he was married — separated from his wife.
“I think he had the hots for you,” says Morrison, who has heard this story. “He started pursuing you.”
Finally Mary let him catch her. Garment District workers called the couple “the sweethearts of Broadway,” Mary recalls.
They married in 1943. She was 28. He was 37.
It was wartime. Ev served in the Air Force.
He had curly red hair and blue eyes and called her “Brat.”
“Anything I did was all right with him,” Mary says. “We had lots of fun.”
They loved to go dancing. The Pla-Mor ballroom on Main was one of their haunts. She remembers Henry Bussey’s band and its theme song, “Hot Lips.”
Ev loved the ladies. “They flirted with him,” Mary says. “He was attractive and had the devil in his eyes.”
Never bothered her.
Late Saturday nights would find them at Union Station, having coffee at the counter at Harvey House and waiting for the Sunday Kansas City Star to go on sale at midnight.
The couple couldn’t have children.
Over the years both worked a variety of jobs. At one point Ev, who was also active in civic affairs, had his own ad agency. Later he worked for developers Frank Morgan and Sherman Dreiseszun, helping get Metcalf South Shopping Center off the ground.
She modeled, including for coat companies. (Women’s coats were one of the KC garment industry’s specialties.)
The Corwins owned two ladies’ clothing stores, the Tack Room and Corwins, and a liquor store, too, all in Johnson County.
In 1966, when their home in Overland Park burned to the ground after being struck by lightning, Ev and Mary decided to cash in life insurance and live in Europe for three months.
After they retired the couple spent 16 years in the Ozarks, near Bella Vista, Ark. She learned to play tennis. In her apartment she shows off a “bronzed” tennis ball (painted silver) Ev gave her in 1978. The attached plaque praises her determination and persistence in learning to play.
“I loved it,” she says, “and was fast on my feet.”
They returned to Kansas City in the 1980s, taking up residence on the Plaza.
As retirees Mary and Ev kept current (seeing movies, reading) and busy. He volunteered as a docent at the Nelson art gallery. She had a weekend job renting apartments for J.C. Nichols. That’s how Mary met Beth Morrison some 15 years ago: She rented her a place.
Admiring Mary’s energy and friendliness, Morrison — who then ran the Plaza Merchants Association — offered her a job selling Plaza gift bonds. Mary kept that gig until just three or four years ago.
“They used to walk everywhere and hold hands,” Morrison says of the Corwins. Ev would be waiting for Mary at the Plaza Merchants office at the end of the day. They’d head off on foot for dinner at Plaza III, then home.
Ev died on April 30, 2001, at 96. Mary remembers calling the funeral home before his body was to be cremated. “Can I come and hold him?” she asked. So she did.
Afterward, she kept his ashes in a box in her living room. She’d come home and tell Ev what she’d done that day.
Later she accompanied the cremains to Ev’s final resting place, Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.
At Loose Park, Mary is fond of the grove of cherry trees on the south end. And of course there’s the lovely rose garden, often the site of weddings. Mary knew Laura Conyers Smith, the garden’s namesake.
She loved those long walks with her beloved Ev. In nice weather they’d visit the park every other day or so.
“You like sitting on my beautiful bench?” she’ll ask.
You bet, Mary. Thanks for sharing it with us.
Kansas City Parks and Recreation is no longer “selling” memorial benches at Loose Park.
The program was in place through the 1970s and ’80s, landscape architect Richard Allen says. A bench replacement project in 2003-04 let people buy benches for $3,500, which covered the cost of the bench and a memorial plaque, with the rest of the money going into an endowment for the park.
CORWIN, EVERETT F
- SSGT US ARMY
- DATE OF BIRTH: 06/08/1905
- DATE OF DEATH: 04/30/2001
- BURIED AT: SECTION 5-FF ROW 9 SITE 5
- ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
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Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard