A memorial service is planned June 16 for Erma Martin Couden, whose family and friends are sharing this remembrance of her long and eventful life:
Erma Martin Couden, an exemplar of love and peace, the matriarch of an extensive family, a former public-school teacher and librarian and a longtime activist in church and civic affairs, died May 24, 2018, at Horizon House in Seattle. She was 103.
In addition to her own accomplishments, Erma devoted herself, with her husband, Elliott N. Couden, to family matters and to the advocacy of civil rights and local heritage preservation, all grounded in the pursuit of caring human connections.
“I like to know people,” she reflected in 2010. “Love is basic in our lives and being positive. I think that is what I want people to do, is to find the positives.”
Erma Fannie Martin was born Jan. 13, 1915, in the town of Irondale, near the Missouri Ozarks, to William Henry Martin, stationmaster for Missouri Pacific Railroad, part-owner of the town bank and co-owner of a gas and oil distributorship, and his wife, Lulu Vahrenkamp Martin, homemaker and daughter of the town baker.
Fittingly, given Erma’s lifelong values, one of her ancestors was William Paca, a signer of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Lulu made sure that Erma and her younger sister, Alma, received post-secondary educations at Lindenwood College for Women (now Lindenwood University) in St. Charles, northwest of St. Louis, and both became teachers.
Erma received a bachelor’s degree in English literature and her teaching certificate from Lindenwood, a course of study that included a year at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
In the summer of 1936, Erma met her future husband on a blind date. He was handicraft director for the Greater St. Louis Boy Scout Council’s summer camp in Irondale. With his guitar, Elliott serenaded Erma with “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie,” and a lifelong relationship was born.
Erma taught high-school English and advised the yearbook in Irondale before joining Elliott in Seattle. The two were married July 24, 1940, at First Methodist Church, Seattle’s oldest church.
They became deeply involved with Moral Re-Armament (MRA), an international moral and spiritual movement with “four absolutes”: honesty, purity, unselfishness and love.
In 1941, Erma and Elliott moved to the south end of West Seattle, between White Center and Arbor Heights, where Elliott sold real estate in the Fairchild Addition. They had a son in 1942 and daughters in 1943 and 1946 and joined Fauntleroy Church in 1948.
Erma became credentialed to teach in Washington and starting in 1951 was a third-grade teacher and later the librarian at West Seattle’s E.C. Hughes Elementary School.
It was a busy life. After school hours and on Saturdays, Erma worked as bookkeeper and manager of Elliott’s real-estate and insurance office in White Center. She also cooked dinners and made many of her children’s clothes.
Erma was a Sunday school teacher, Girl Scout leader, Job’s Daughters adviser and summer-camp cook. She served on YMCA and church boards and Seattle Public Schools advisory committees. She and Elliott ran dances and senior activities at Chief Sealth High School and advised the Fauntleroy Church youth group.
Challenges, including personal threats and financial pressures, came to the Coudens because of Elliott’s leadership roles with the Church Council of Greater Seattle and Seattle Human Rights Commission to support open housing in the 1960s. At one point, Erma returned to teaching after Elliott’s real-estate business plummeted as a result of his activism. She retired in 1975.
Erma also provided behind-the-scenes help to Elliott when he founded the Southwest Seattle Historical Society in 1984 and while he served the organization over the next 20 years until his death at age 93. He often credited Erma’s love, support and encouragement for his success.
The Coudens lived in Fauntleroy/Westwood, Admiral, and Alki, settling in later years near Morgan Junction. They supported South Seattle Community College, took time to get to know their grandchildren and great-grandchildren and traveled to Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Canada and nearly every U.S. state.
Erma moved to Horizon House in February 2012, making new friends and becoming known for her capacity to smile, love and reach out to newcomers.
Besides Elliott, she was predeceased by sister Alma Rice (2014). She is survived by son William M. Couden (Judith), of Vallejo, Calif., granddaughter Nancy Williams of Poulsbo, great-grandchildren Luke, Sam and Abbie, and grandsons Rich Couden of Bothell, and Ron Couden of Seattle; daughter Virginia C. Stimpson, of Seattle, grandson Steven of Seattle, granddaughter Jennifer (Scott) Soule of Port Angeles, and great-grandchildren Maria, Kenny and Michael; and daughter Barbara Couden-Ochs (Steffen), of Boquete, Panama.
The memorial service for Erma will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 16, 2018, at Horizon House, 900 University St., Seattle.
Remembrances to Fauntleroy Church, UCC, 9140 California Ave. SW, Seattle, WA 98136-2598 and Southwest Seattle Historical Society, 3003 61st Ave. SW, Seattle, WA 98116-2810.
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