A good roommate and even better looks might be the secrets to finding a spouse of 70 years.
Eugene (Gene) Peters of Wichita laughed this week as he recalled how he was not enthused when his roommate, Bea, told him she was having two girlfriends over.
He had grown up on a farm in Oxford, Kan., before serving in World War II, then moved to Wichita as part of a veterans job training program. His roommate was a bit eager to help him meet some friends in Wichita and invited a woman she worked with.
Clarice Peters, who was 19, happily accepted the invitation to her boss’ home. She was told only that a “nice young fellow” had just come back from the service and needed to make some friends, so she took her roommate along with her.
She said she knew that Gene, who was about five years older, was someone special as soon as she laid eyes on him. She just did not know she would think the same thought even 70 years later.
“He was the best looking man I had ever seen,” Clarice said. “I thought he was a good-looking movie star.”
As for Gene, he thought Clarice was attractive, which may have been the reason he was nervously reading a magazine upside down when they met.
Or maybe, he said, it was because he wasn’t ready to meet two young women.
“I was not too pleased,” Gene said. “I felt set up.”
Gene’s roommate strongly suggested he take Clarice and her roommate home. The two did not make plans to see each other again, but he later stopped by her house several times. It took several trips before Clarice was home.
“That was when I knew he liked me,” Clarice said.
Gene, now 95, and Clarice, 91, had their 70th wedding anniversary, or platinum anniversary, on May 14. They saved their celebration for Memorial Day weekend, when they will have a family dinner on Saturday and an open house with family and friends on Sunday.
According to a study by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2009, only 6 percent of married couples passed their 50th, or golden, wedding anniversary.
The couple did not always think they would make it this far. Gene admitted that while they were dating, he had a girlfriend in his hometown who he did not break up with until his relationship with Clarice became more steady.
There was no special proposal, but rather a mutual decision to get married during a conversation late one night — a night neither can remember well.
“I don’t know when I knew I wanted to marry her,” Gene said. “I just knew I liked her.”
The couple married on May 14, 1947, about two years after they met.
It was a traditional wedding with a sit-down dinner at Minneola Lutheran Church in Clarice’s hometown of Zumbrota, Minn.
“It’s a Norwegian country church that sits on a hill,” Clarice said. “It was beautiful.”
She wore an $80 dress, and he met Clarice’s family for the first time.
Gene remembers hearing her father and brother mention his name in Norwegian, but to this day he has no idea what they said about him. He just knows it was too late for her family to stop the wedding – the reception had already been booked.
Although their wedding is a highlight of their life, they are most proud of their five daughters, five sons-in-law and 11 grandchildren. From attending graduations, weddings and traveling to visit two of their daughters in Europe, the couple said they have had countless adventures over the years.
Rebecca Brunner-Peters, one of the couple’s five daughters, said she and her siblings are blessed to have had their parents in their lives for so long.
“They have taught us a lot about hard work, humility, family values and a good sense of humor,” Brunner-Peters said in an e-mailed comment. “They also taught us the meaning of a good marriage … to have and to hold … for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part. They have done it all, except the latter, thank the Lord.”
Brunner-Peters said it is a “fairly amazing statistic” that her parents have raised five daughters, all married with zero divorces.
“Sometimes times are tough,” Clarice said. “But you just have to tough it out.”
That’s their secret, she said. Remember the movie-star good looks, work out the disagreements and kiss each other before bed.
“We argue every day,” Gene said, only slightly kidding. “We always disagree on something each day. But I also kiss her goodnight every night. I try not to miss too many of those.”