Love through time: Local couples share secrets of lasting marriage
It's Valentine's Day, and many area couples will be doing something special to celebrate their love. Among them are two couples from Park Rapids who have been married more than 60 years.
Faith that bonds
Audrey and Bill Harsha of Park Rapids credit their faith in God for making their 70-year marriage a good one. They start each day by reading their Bibles and devotion books.
Their first date was at the roller skating rink in a 4-H building at the county fairgrounds when they both were in high school.
"Everybody roller-skated back in those days," Bill said. "There'd be a pile of kids coming and going on a Friday night. They had clamp-on skates you could put on your shoes. It was an old, wood-heated building with a stove on each end."
Bill's dad was in the trucking business, and Audrey's folks farmed. Bill had been out to Audrey's parents' farm several times picking up livestock and they had walked to school together. It was after some "couple skates," where they held hands as they glided around the rink, that they started dating.
Their first dates were at the old movie theatre across the street from the present-day theater, where the Royal Bar is now located.
"We always sat up in the balcony," Audrey recalls. "I don't remember the movies. Maybe we didn't see the movies."
After knowing each other a few months, they married on Oct. 18, 1947, both confident that the other was "the one." Bill said the reason his marriage lasted is all these years is "because I loved her."
"It has been a very, very good marriage," he said. "We've had ups and downs as all marriages do, but we have had a good life. We had four kids and we've done a variety of things. We've worked most of our lives side by side. She did book work for me and my businesses."
After he graduated from high school, Bill worked for Arvig, helping put in the first telephone lines. He ran an agricultural business, bought it and built his own building.
The couple also operated a dairy farm for 17 years, winning an award in 1972 for the top farm in Hubbard County. Bill also owned and drove a bus for the Park Rapids School District for more than 30 years and had a lawn care business for 21 years.
"We also dabbled in real estate a little bit and I just sold the last piece and that's what we're living off now," he said. "We've been very close all the time."
Audrey's stroke 15 years ago makes it hard for her to get around and think of the exact word she is looking for at times, but it hasn't affected her smile. It also hasn't affected Bill's love for her. He attends caregiving classes through the Living at Home program.
"They have helped us a whole, whole bunch. I never miss a class if I can help it," he said. "They are wonderful. Yesterday, they supplied me with a gentleman with a vehicle to haul me to Perham to have my thumb operated on."
"Audrey takes pretty good care of herself and get around pretty handily, but she has some trouble with falling down once in awhile," he said.
Bill said his advice for couples is "if they can afford it, get their traveling done early in life because you can run into something like Audrey did with her stroke. You never know when the good Lord is going to say something that will put on a clamp on your plans. We have traveled all 50 states and we had a lot of good times and a lot of good memories."
Audrey said her advice for couples starting out is to "stay together. You should take time to know each other and go to church together. Don't just get mad. You have to work on it. Work on it."
Bill agreed with a succinct "yep."
The home where the couple lives now is at the same site where Audrey's grandparents and parents lived and where Audrey and Bill were married. He built it himself, along with much of the furniture to go with it.
"Those 70 years we've lived together, we have never once lived in a rented house," he said. "We've owned every one of them."
"Bill has built three houses," Audrey said proudly. "One in Park Rapids, one in Dorset and this one."
"My son told me I was too old to build a house when I built this one," Bill said. "We've lived here 22 years, so I was 68 at the time."
Over the years the couple attended Riverside Methodist Church and Hubbard Methodist Church. Audrey said their faith is what helped them through the tough times.
"Every morning we read our Bible and have devotions. We talk to each other."
Rather than focusing on celebrating Valentine's Day, Bill said they show their love for each other every day in the things they do for each other.
"We've spent a lot of time together, and that's something a lot of couples can't do, but for us it worked out very, very well," he said.
The couple had two boys and two girls. Their oldest son passed away six years ago from cancer. Dan lives on the north side of Fishhook. Kay lives in Nevis, and Deanne (Annie) lives halfway between Sebeka and Wadena. The couple has 11 grandkids and 24 or more great grandkids. "They keep having them," Bill said.
Most of the family gathered for a big celebration of their 70 years of marriage.
"We had a fantastic 70th anniversary celebration the kids put on at the Hubbard town hall," Bill said, showing a large framed picture of the 65 family members who attended the event and signed the matte as a keepsake of the day.
Love at first sight
Roger and Bobbie Field of Park Rapids fell for each other fast, but faith has sustained their 62-year marriage.
They met while in high school in Des Moines, Iowa. Roger was a senior, and Bobbi was just entering high school.
"I was taking a typing class and saw her come walking down the hall," he said. "I just said, 'I've got to get to know that gal.' She caught my eye, definitely."
He told a friend who was in Bobbi's typing class to keep an eye on her for him, but she ended up dating the friend. Roger was dating a girl he had been friends with since first grade.
One day, Roger asked Bobbie out on a date.
"In my day you didn't just date one guy, you dated different guys," she said. "It was nothing serious. So I had dated two or three guys, and he had dated two or three girls, but when he asked me out it took off from there."
Their first date was at a drive-in restaurant.
"Back then, you could get a Coke and a hamburger for 50 cents," she said.
They also went to school football and basketball games together.
Bobbie said she knew right away that Roger was the right guy for her. He felt the same way and asked her to go steady, giving her his class ring. The next year when Roger was in college and Bobbie was a senior in high school he gave her a diamond ring.
She worked in the horticulture department to help him through college.
They were married Sept. 4, 1955 at a church wedding at the College Avenue Christian Church with all of her family present.
She said the qualities she admires most in Roger is being a good husband, father and provider. He worked as an engineer. They had four children 18 months apart, which Roger said kept Bobbie "very busy." Later, she managed a restaurant.
Being raised by his mother, Roger said he didn't have a male role model of a dad to follow.
"After the first baby came along, I knew I needed Jesus, to be a follower and a Christian and follow what God said because I knew I didn't know how to raise a kid," he said.
"Neither did I, but I learned," Bobbie said.
They have six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Son Scott Field and his wife Kristy just bought the cabin on Long Lake, so they can go visit whenever they want. Daughter Linda lives in Boise, Idaho and Julie is in Lancaster, Calif.
They had a big celebration for their 50th anniversary in California, and a dinner at Blueberry Pines for their 60th anniversary.
Back when they were younger, they celebrated Valentine's Day with flowers, candy and cards.
Now they keep it simple.
"We'll probably go out to eat with the kids and give each other cards," she said. "There's nothing out there we want or need."
She said they show their love in simple ways every day. "I cook the foods that he likes, and he fixes things at the house. We just do for each other."
As for her advice to couples just starting out, she said, "Take the vows that say 'for better or for worse' seriously. We were brought up in the Christian church and that's the way we do it. My advice is plan ahead and know that's the right person. Make your decision, pick the right guy and stick to it."
Roger agrees that remembering his vows was important.
"I think about how lucky I was to have met her and married her," he said. "I also think integrity is very important, just to maintain the relationship. No matter what comes along, you love her and it's forever."
To settle little disagreements, "I just do what she says," Roger said, laughing. "Generally, it's not a major decision."
"You say what's on your mind, and then you get over it," Bobbie said.
Roger reminded her of the time during their first year of marriage he was helping her dry dishes, dropped a plate and broke it. "From then on I was banned from the kitchen and it still stands," he said.
"We have a joke that when it's his night to cook dinner we go out to eat," she said. "I think having a sense of humor helps."
They are active members of Faithbridge Church in Park Rapids and the senior center.
They enjoy going out to eat, playing cards, playing games with the kids, going out on the pontoon, fishing and traveling. Lots of traveling. They drove back and forth from their home in California to the lake every summer for 27 years with their children and a car full of stuff.
They recently went on a 5,000-mile trip to visit family on the west coast.
"We used to bowl, but we're too old for that," Bobbie said.
They now enjoy their home in rural Park Rapids, six miles from the lake place they still visit often.
Bobbie suggested couples join a church and go to a minister for counseling before marriage. "It's a vital thing," she said. "You've got to have God in your life. Then if conflicts arise, you have someone to turn to."