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Voyageur's Best Features of 2003

From tragedy

From celebration... to tragedy
Couples celebrate 50+ years of marraige on Valentine’s Day
by John Grones  |  February 18, 2003

It was Friday, Feb. 14, 2003, a special day for many and little did I know that my orig-inal plans for the day would change. Din-ner plans were put on hold when I found out that eight married couples were gathering in Wright, Minn. to board a bus and head to Duluth for a free Valentine’s Day dinner. What was so special about the whole thing, was that these couples were being rewarded for their commitment to 50 plus years of marriage.

The day was filled with history, humor, wisdom and anecdotes. I enjoyed every minute, listening to couples that are still in love after 50 years. The spirit of the whole trip was wonderful, as I soaked up the joy and laughter. Unfortunately, on such a special day, with each and every celebration there is a tragedy. For one of the couples it would be all to real when they arrived home.

We boarded the Arrowhead Transit bus in Wright around 11:00 a.m. The group included eight happily married couples; Leonard and Toini Aho, Oliver and Marion Wydra, Ken and Ina Peterson, Melvin and Eleanor Lind, Ray and Alice Gurske, Art and Mary Aho, Jacob and Helen VonDeLinde, Bud and Joan Olson myself and our two chaperones, Art Jauss and Eleanor Spicer. Our destination, the Old Country Buffet for a Valentine’s dinner.

Old Country Buffet has been offering a free Valentine’s Day dinner to couples married for 50 years or more for the past seven years. The only requirement, present a marriage certificate. According to Old Country Buffet manager, Beth Erickson-Allen, they will serve 350-400 couples during the day! “It’s Valentine’s Day,” she said. “Seniors are our loyal customers and this is our way of thanking them and recognizing their commitment to marriage.”

Another organization that recognizes senior citizens as loyal customers is the Arrowhead Transit bus transportation system. They decided to discount our bus fare to Duluth for the day. Our bus driver, Floyd Walters, even sacrificed a little down time waiting for the group to eat and fellowship after the big meal.

Floyd and his wife Julie both work for Arrowhead Transit and they enjoy the old folks. “They’re quite a bunch, ain’t they?” said Floyd. Floyd continued to have a sense of humor even after finding out that Leonard Aho was scheming a way to create a diversion and steal the bus driver’s seat for his tractor. Floyd told everyone upon arriving at the Old Country Buffet that they were welcome to leave their wallets and any personal belongings on the bus. He then added, “ We will not be taking this bus back.”

Inside Old Country Buffet, everyone but me presented their marriage certificate, and made a bee line for the buffet. The restaurant also provided a photographer so couples could have a complimentary picture taken with their sweetheart. The only catch... the photo won’t be ready for two weeks and they will have to return to pick it up.

As we sat and visited over our meal, we ran into three more couples from the area. Bob and Lorraine Beck were there from Cromwell. They have been married for 52 years. Then we ran into Dick and Joan Anderson. They too have been married for 52 years. Dick had to stop at Menard’s before they ate dinner. Later, Richard and Edna Samuelson arrived and sat across the aisle from our group. They have been married for 51 years. Edna spent the whole day in Duluth. In addition to the Valentine dinner, she visited her daughter who is a teacher at Lakeview Christian Academy.

The entire day was spent conversing a wide range of topics. We listened to Leonard Aho’s lengthy jokes and concerns over frozen septic systems. We talked about farming, planting trees, vacations, children, accidents... we even planned out my excuses for not showing up for my own Valentine’s dinner with my wife. I was told they would write me an excuse.

I certainly got lots of advice and each couple had their own little secret to the success for a long and happy marriage. One characteristic, humor, was not mentioned, but was an obvious component throughout the day.

Mary and Art Aho were married on Sept. 14, 1945. They have been married for 57 years. The secret to their successful marriage, they said was staying away from drinking and smoking. They felt that the quality time they had taking vacations helped also. Mary’s advice to young couples: “Stick through it through thick and thin.” This is the advice she gave without hesitation.

Oliver and Marion Wydra were married on Dec. 13, 1941. Their marriage of 61 years can be summed up in one word. “Patience,” said Marion. “Lot’s of patience!” As for advice for young couples, Marion doesn’t think they would want to hear it.
“Walk away, walk away,” said Oliver jokingly.

Ray and Alice Gurske were married on Nov. 3, 1946 and have been married for 56 years. They still reminisce about their special day when they drove to Duluth for their marriage certificate and the car boiled over heading to Two Harbors. According to Ray there are just two expressions a guy needs to know to make a marriage work, “Yes, dear” and “I was wrong”.

Melvin and Eleanor Lind were married on Sept. 28, 1944. It was very evident that these two have had a happy 58 years of marriage. I coach their grandson, Shawn Lind, on the basketball team and he had his best game of the season later in the evening. Eleanor pointed out the secret to a long marriage is the give and take. Her advice to newlyweds: “Be happy and enjoy each other.”

Ken and Ina Peterson were married on Oct. 20, 1949. Their marriage of 53 years evolved around the family farm. Ina commented on the fact that in every marriage, couples can point out a time when they could have walked away, but for whatever reason chose not to. Ina’s advice: “Learn to tolerate,” she said. “I think that with all the work on the farm, we didn’t have time to fight.”

Bud and Joan Olson were married in Sept. of 1951 and have been married for 52 years. They have a close family and commented on the fact that all six of their children still live close to home. Bud feels that the secret to their marriage has been the willingness to help each when the other is down. Joan’s advice to the younger generation: “Hang in there, even when the going gets tough.”
“And it does get tough,” added Bud.

Jacob and Helen Vondelinde were married on April 24, 1943. They have been married 60 years. The secret to their long-lasting relationship has been respect and forgiveness. “Young couples have to have respect for each other... and feed your husband good,” said Helen.

Jacob’s advice: “Be forgiving.”

Leonard and Toini Aho have the longest tenure in the group. When I asked them what day they got married on, Toini immediately looked at Leonard. It wasn’t because she didn’t know, she wanted to see if Leonard knew the date. He didn’t hesitate – “Sept. 18, 1940,” he proudly announced. That equates to 62 years and the most among the couples on the bus. “Can you imagine living with Leonard for 63 years?” said Toini. “Doesn’t that have something to say about my stamina? I always say, ‘I will have been married for 63 years in Sept., if I let him live that long.’”

Leonard and Toini shared their very first Valentine’s moment, which wasn’t actually Valentine’s Day, but closer to Christmas time. We were at Sunday School together at the Lakeside School. “We were 10 and eight years old at the time. I didn’t get any candy and Leonard shared some of his.” The year was 1929 and it was love ever after for Toini and Leonard. Toini recalled their 50th wedding anniversary (just 12 years ago), when their two grandsons gave Leonard a sack of candy to remember the special day.

The secret to their marriage has been simple according to Leonard. “Keep your mouth shut and let them think they are the boss.”

According to Toini, divorce has never been an option.

I received lots of advice from the eight couples and our two chaperones, Art Jauss and Eleanor Spicer. Thanks to a little patience and understanding from my own wife, I was off the hook for missing Valentine’s Day dinner with her.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end here and the day did not end on a happy note. For one couple, Kenny and Ina Peterson, what started out as a celebration of marriage, ended with a tragedy at home.

A fire started and consumed Kenny and Ina’s barn later that evening. The fire took many of their personal belongings and one cow. Thankfully, no one was injured or hurt, but a day that started out joyous, ended in sadness. Life is filled with celebrations and tragedies and this Valentine’s Day would have both. Just like a marriage of over 50 years, there are joyous times and there are sad times. This was a sad day for Kenny and Ina Peterson.

I visited them the following morning to discover several friends, family and neighbors were there helping out in any way that they could. Several men worked on mending a fence, friends stopped by to offer an embrace... a family stopped with extra food for the people that had gathered.

The loss was not just the barn and one animal, but much more. They lost all their tools, three freezers of meat, a bobcat, a three wheeler, paneling, a table saw, band saw, tractor... and the list goes on.

On a positive note, one of the bottle baby calves was rescued by one of the fire fighters and Kenny found one pair of pliers. The rest is in a smoldering heap. Kenny didn’t have time to share any other details because he was on his way to the hospital. He breathed in a little too much smoke and they wanted to check for carbon monoxide poisoning. Before he left, he shared one last thought. “We only have as many problems as we can handle.”

Knowing Kenny and Ina, they will take this setback in stride and it, too, will pass. Just think, in seven years there will be another celebration. Kenny and Ina will have been married for 60 years.

This article first appeared in the February 18, 2003 issue of the Voyageur Press.