Valentine’s Day love stories65 years, 35 years and newlyweds: Local couples share what works in their marriage
By: Candy DenOuden, The Daily Republic
From the family photos on prominent display to the framed heirlooms gracing their Mitchell home’s walls, it’s easy to see that family is important to LoDema and Russell Kirkus.
Maybe that’s one of the things that has helped them stay happy together for nearly 70 years.
Originally from the Mount Vernon area, LoDema and Russell met while she was still in high school. Russell’s country school between Mount Vernon and Plankinton, Hopper Consolidated County School, closed, and his younger brother transferred to LoDema’s class.
“A bunch of us just started palling around together,” she said.
They dated for two years, then married on Jan. 30, 1948.
“It was bitter cold,” LoDema remembers with a laugh.
She was 20 and Russell was 22, which, at the time, they said, was not unusually young to get married.
“All our friends, that’s about when they got married,” Russell said.
At first they farmed, but eventually moved into Mount Vernon, where they raised their three children and made a home together for 55 years. But, the big house and yard started to be too much for Russell, now 87, and his wife, 85, to handle. In 2010, they sold the house and moved into a duplex in Mitchell.
Renting the space also means no more yard work, which they enjoyed, but could no longer keep up with.
“I can sit and drink coffee and watch a guy mow my lawn,” Russell said with a laugh. “We’re real comfortable.”
It demonstrates the couple’s assertion that part of how they’ve stayed happy for so long is, as Russell said, “We made the best of every day.”
Why exactly they were successful in love when so many people aren’t, they aren’t sure.
“We’ve talked about that,” LoDema said. “We worked hard. There was love there.”
Communication is key, they said, saying they never make major decisions without consulting each other.
“We’re pretty agreeable,” LoDema said, looking at Russell who nods.
Family came first, they said, which meant they didn’t go to as many basketball games or pinochle tables once they had children.
“Probably some people would really think we had a boring life, but we didn’t think so,” LoDema said.
They agree they went through some hard times financially, but LoDema is thankful she was able to stay home with their children.
“It was hard for us with no money, but you could live cheaper than you can now,” she said. “I really feel sorry for some of these kids.”
And, even when times were tough, or when they experienced the “empty nest,” they never felt alone.
“We had each other,” he said.
The couple celebrated their 65th anniversary last month with two of their three children, Denise and Doug; their son Kevin, in Iowa, couldn’t attend.
“We had a real nice meal,” LoDema said.
They’ve “slowed down an awful lot,” according to Russell, but they still enjoy the same things. They like to watch basketball together on TV, and will occasionally go out to breakfast together. As for Valentine’s Day today, whether or not they observe the day will depend entirely on the weather.
“If it’s cold, we’ll stay right here,” LoDema said, pointing a finger downward. “If it’s icy, we stay in.”
35 years: ‘Made it work’
Fred and Bonnie Shank don’t know what they’ll do for Valentine’s Day today.
The couple, who celebrated their 35th anniversary on Jan. 13, said they might go out to eat with their daughter, Lindsey. They like going to Chef Louie’s, or The Brig.
But Bonnie said she has some lobster and steak she could just as easily make for the two of them to enjoy together at home. What they do seems rather unimportant to them both, provided they get to be together.
“We’re usually always together,” Bonnie said. “If I go somewhere by myself, people ask, ‘Where’s Fred?’ and if he goes somewhere it’s, ‘Where’s Bonnie?’ ”
Bonnie works for Avera Queen of Peace in admissions and Fred is a part owner and metals processor at Dakota Salvage, but despite often busy work schedules, the couple said they always make time for each other.
“We spend a lot of time together,” Fred said.
Like many longtime couples, they often look to each other before speaking, rely on each other to remember past events and finish each other’s sentences.
A friend and Bonnie’s co-worker, Dara Baker, said the two “act as if they are still newlyweds,” which elicited smiles from both. For them, the honeymoon never ended — because they never really had one to begin with. It’s hard for teenagers with a baby to take a honeymoon, they said.
The two met at a party nearly 40 years ago when Bonnie was 15 and Fred was just 13. Fred says that Bonnie initially wanted to sit on someone else’s lap, but then wound up sitting on Fred’s.
“It just took off from there,” he said with a laugh.
They were just 17 and 19 when they got married, with a baby on the way.
Unwed pregnancies still carry a stigma, but at the time, the couple agrees, it was worse. That, coupled with their youth, made others worry about their chances.
“Nobody thought we were going to make it,” Bonnie said.
Thirty-five years, later, though, they seem to have defied the odds.
It worked, Bonnie noted, because they “made it work.”
“Nobody helped us,” she said, of their finances in particular. “We didn’t live on food stamps, we paid our own rent.”
They credit common interests and communication as important factors in a successful relationship, citing their joint love of car shows and hosting backyard pool parties in the summertime.
And, it doesn’t hurt that Fred likes to surprise Bonnie with gifts, like her new diamond earrings.
“Fred loves diamonds, so I take full advantage of it,” Bonnie said with a laugh.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” he said in response.
Newlyweds: ‘Sharing your life’
Eric Giblin isn’t sure Valentine’s Day is a real holiday, but he’s willing to humor his wife of four months, Rachel.
“He thinks it’s made up, but I like it,” Rachel, 23, said with a smile.
In response, Eric, 35, teases that Rachel’s love of holidays also expands her birth “day” into a birth “week.”
“I like celebrating things,” she said.
What they will do today, they hadn’t yet decided recently, but they usually exchange a gift, they said. Married on Sept. 29, the couple still considers themselves in the “honeymoon” phase. They are excitedly expecting their first child together; otherwise, the relationship isn’t much changed.
“The biggest change is getting to be together a lot more than we were before,” Rachel said.
While the couple agrees their relationship has changed recently, that has as much to do with Rachel finishing radiology school and their schedules adjusting as matrimony.
“It just all happened at the same time,” Eric said.
Still, he noted that married life brings with it more stability, and more commitment, even than a serious dating relationship.
“When you’re married, it’s more that you’re sharing your life with someone,” he said.
Rachel agreed, saying she likes being able to go home to someone who loves her, to her husband.
Noting the challenges that come with married life, Rachel said she sees Eric’s parents, who recently celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary, as role models.
“They still go out together,” Rachel said, noting that for advice, “I know I could go to his mom.”