Valentine’s Day is nearly here and lovelorn residents of Tempe and West Chandler may be wondering if that special someone will return their ardor.
Not so for two couples at North Chandler Place, a senior-living center in West Chandler. Ron and Darlene Johnson and Bud and Irene Wood have celebrated the sure aim of Cupid’s bow for more than six decades each.
So how did they meet and fall in love all those years ago? And, perhaps more significantly, how have they managed to stay in love?
“Her dad and mother and kids came to our church as our new pastors,” Ron Johnson said. “When they were introduced that Sunday morning, they walked onto the platform and I said, ‘I’m going to marry that girl right there.’”
“We were 11,” Darlene Johnson said.
Thus began the romance that still has them sitting close and completing each other’s sentences.
It wasn’t always that way in the beginning, back in 1945.
“She was beautiful—her blue eyes and blonde hair and, well, she had no use for me,” Ron said.
They were in the same class at school.
“Well, the pastor’s daughter plays the field first, right?” Darlene said, chuckling. “There may be others in the wings.”
The strategy worked.
“I just kept waiting until we turned 20 and then we got married,” Ron said.
Darlene worked as a bookkeeper at a bank and Ron did odd jobs, then moved onto construction, a job he toiled at for 37 years, hanging dry wall, mostly.
Like everyone, they must have had their storms during their years of wedded bliss. Right?
“No storms,” Ron said.
“Everyone loves a love story,” Darlene said, “like it’s all about how I feel and if I’m feeling loved, but love is really going the other way. It’s loving outside yourself.”
Marriage isn’t a 50-50 proposition, the Johnsons say.
“It’s 100 percent. There’s no making the other guy measure up to your 50. It’ll never happen. Don’t expect your mate to be your happiness,” Darlene said.
In their marriage, it meant acknowledging that they were different, with Darlene the extrovert and Ron a bit more reserved.
“She’s a socialite and I’m not,” Ron declared.
“You have to work at it,” Darlene said.
“She talks and I listen,” Ron quipped.
“He says, ‘Yes, dear,’” she said. “For him, it’s sports, all kinds of sports. He loved me very much from the time he was 11.”
“I still do,” Ron said.
As for advice to newlyweds, Ron has a clear idea: “If you’re not established in a church and serving God, you’ve got a problem. That’s what got us through. A lot of prayer.”
That faith was called upon when the Johnsons faced a tragedy the likes of which has been known to tear other couples apart. Ron and Darlene had three children, two daughters and a son. Sadly, their son Dwayne died of leukemia when he was 3.
“The grief actually brought us together as a family because God is with us in the good times and the bad times. That was a bad time,” Ron said. “I didn’t want to live anymore. Life was over for me.”
“You want to just crawl in the casket,” Darlene said. “In three and a half years, he lived a lifetime.”
Dwayne was the much-longed-for son who lived life exuberantly, radiating joy.
“We had two daughters that we had to think about. They didn’t know what death was,” Darlene said.
She had to be strong, helping the girls process the grief. Two days after the funeral, the family attended a professional baseball game.
“We had to go on. You can’t live in the sorrow forever,” Darlene said.
Bud and Irene Wood have their own love story.
They met at a dance in Globe nearly 70 years ago while Irene, a student at Northern Arizona University, was visiting a friend. Bud was older and teaching school, living in Pinedale. Cupid’s aim was true and the two began dating in the months following the dance.
“Her dad worked for the railroad so she could come to Holbrook on the train and somebody would meet her,” Bud said.
“We met in the fall and got married in July,” Irene said.
The Woods raised their children in Chandler back when it was mostly farm fields. Their son lives in Montana. One daughter lives in Flagstaff and the other in Gilbert.
Their first home in Chandler, a modest, two-bedroom dwelling, cost $7,600, which Bud points out is less than a recent dental bill he incurred for a toothache.
“I was expecting it to be about $200,” Bud said. “I came unglued and they knocked off about $4,000.”
The couple says they knew their share of struggles earlier in life, having grown up during World War II.
“We are familiar with hard times, gas rationing, sugar rationing, all that kind of stuff,” Bud said. “You couldn’t run down to McDonald’s and get a snack, you had to figure what you were going to dig up at home to eat.”
“I stayed home and to raise money I took care of neighbors’ children,” Irene said.
Bud eventually became principal of what was then known as Denver School, not far from downtown Chandler. In 1953, he became principal of a new junior high school on Oakland Street. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, he served on the Chandler City Council for 12 years, including two terms as vice-mayor.
What would the Woods tell young people considering marriage in 2021?
“First of all, make sure you have a good job and profession that has a retirement program,” Bud said. “One of the things that causes problems early on is the finances.”
How have they dealt with quarrels in their marriage?
“I grew up believing that conflict is a fact,” Irene said. “You’re going to have arguments but that doesn’t mean those arguments are going to cause any serious trouble.
“You have to discuss things. And arguing lots of times is the word discussing.”
“I pulled rank on her,” Bud said.
“Good luck with that,” Ron Johnson interjected.
“She always looked up to me because I’m older than her,” Bud said.
“Conflict happens,” Irene said. “I always grew up believing when you marry, that’s it. You stay together, you make the most of it and you work things out.”
The Woods and the Johnsons have done just that and plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day just like many other couples: with love and the memories that brought them together.
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