Have you ever been curious about Walter Zeh? While we know that Walt was Jane’s first husband thanks to the Sue Watkins books Speaking of Jane Roberts and Conversations With Seth, and some of the Early and Personal Sessions, we’ve never read much about him.
Several months ago I came across correspondence between Walt, Rob and Jane. Among those are a few letters from Walt to Jane and Rob in 1954 and then, after Jane’s death in 1984, many letters between him and Rob. Walt also wrote a partial autobiography. The letters and the bio gave me a better idea of who the man named Walter E. Zeh was. Now for the rest of the story…
Walt, an only child, was born on November 30, 1917 in Schenectady NY. He grew up in Saratoga Springs. His father died while Walt was an infant, and he and his mother then moved in with his maternal grandmother and grand uncle. The house was large, a three-story Victorian, and his mother’s younger brother and his family also moved in for a while. Unfortunately, due to a family situation, Walt lived in an orphanage from the ages of 6 to 13. He moved back home in 1931. He had a wide variety of jobs as a young adult, and being an accomplished organist, played organ for local churches for most of his life.
Walt enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942 and was given training for ground station use. He was stationed in Fairbanks and later the Yukon. After the Hiroshima bombing he was honorably discharged in 1945 and returned to Saratoga Springs. He enrolled at Skidmore College in September of 1946. It was at that time that he bought his first motorcycle.
Jane Roberts and Walter Zeh met in the summer of 1947 at a Skidmore veterans’ cookout at Saratoga Battlefield. Jane was 18 years old and a writing major on scholarship. Walt was 30 and a philosophy major. They became friends over the summer. He and Jane rode his motorcycle to and from school and also on leisurely country drives. On campus, they became known as “that pair who ride around on a motorcycle,” the epitome of “rebels unwilling to conform to the demands of convention” in Walt’s own words.
In 1950, Walt graduated from Skidmore, but Jane had been expelled at the end of her junior year for attending a party at the home of a couple who were members of the Skidmore faculty. Jane was charged with “breach of social discipline.” Walt and others have said that Jane was set up, as there were other students at the party as well, yet she was the only one the school disciplined.
In the summer of 1950, Walt purchased a larger motorcycle and in October that year he and Jane set out for Santa Monica, CA, to visit her father and stepmother—and so Jane could take a break from her mother. In December they both traveled via Greyhound to Washington DC where Walt looked into a possible job with the CIA. That didn’t pan out so they headed back to Saratoga Springs via train. They stopped in Baltimore to visit some of Jane’s friends and got married there on December 11, 1950. Jane felt after a trip like that she “could not return home unmarried.”
During the years of 1950-1954 the marriage was a bit rocky as Walt and Jane sorted out their own identities. Then on Sunday April 4, 1954, their relationship came to an end. Jane told Walt she had met and fallen in love with Robert Butts, and the rest is the history we know. Jane divorced Walt on October 26, 1954 in DeLand, Florida. Jane and Rob had moved down there for a short period, and Florida was lenient in divorce proceedings. Jane and Rob were married in December 1954 at Rob’s brother’s home in Tunkhannock, PA.
Walt indicated in his letters to Rob that it took him a while to recover from the shock of Jane’s leaving so abruptly. He never stopped questioning that. But he did go on to have a very rewarding life and in the end and it all worked out for the best for everyone involved.
After the breakup, Walt worked various jobs in Saratoga and Indiana, and returned to Saratoga in August of 1956. Being a well known organist, he was hired by the Saratoga Presbyterian Church. Through that association, Walt met the woman who became his second wife, Gretchen Wright. They married December 27, 1958 and went on to have a happy life with their three sons Karl, Arthur and Stanley.
In January of 1988, at age 70, Walt retired from his position as administrative analyst for the Office of General Services of the State of New York. He had previously retired (around 1964) from his church organist position. He spent his post-retirement time volunteering at the Saratoga Springs train station.
After many years without contact, Walt wrote to Rob in 1984 when he heard the news of Jane’s passing. He and Rob developed a friendship and they exchanged lengthy letters that spanned from 1984 until February 1995. The impression I got from his writing is that Walt was a very articulate, honest and insightful person.
Walt died on November 11, 1999. His wife Gretchen died April 9, 2009.
Special thanks to Karl Zeh for additional details and Stan Zeh for additional photos!