Valentine’s Day is a day to say “I love you” to your sweetheart, and we found four area couples who have been saying that to one another for a combined total of 253 years celebrating the special day at the Wayne Senior Center.
When you’ve been married as long as some of these couples have, it’s obvious there is a secret to the success of not only falling in love, but staying in it as well.
We talked with four couples who have shared more than 50 years of wedded bliss to find out how they have stayed together for so long. Here are their stories:
Keith and Fern Erickson
The Ericksons were married on Easter Sunday in 1951, and will celebrate their 67th wedding anniversary next month on Palm Sunday.
Keith said he was dating another girl at the time, but one look at Fern changed his mind.
“I was going with another girl at the time, but she looked pretty good,” Keith said of his wife.
“The other girl was a classmate of mine,” Fern added. “On our first date, he had to take me to Randolph to the movie in his 1937 Ford Coupe because he had been going with this other girl.”
The couple dated for some time, and Keith needed to borrow money from his twin brother to buy his bride-to-be her diamond engagement ring.
“We had both graduated in 1946 and had started farming, and for some reason he had more money than I did at the time so I had to borrow money from him to buy the ring,” he said.
The Ericksons were married in the spring of 1951, and shortly after that, Mr. Erickson was called into service during the Korean War, where saw action as a staff sergeant.
After his time overseas, he returned home and started farming again on the family farm that had been in the family for 127 years before they sold it six years ago. While he was in Korea, Fern taught at a country school and taught another year or two before her husband returned home.
The secret to their successful marriage has been simple, if you ask Keith Erickson.
“Make sure you listen to your wife,” he said with a smile. “You’ve got to give and take a little both ways.”
His wife agreed.
“You can’t always have it your way,” she added. “You’ve got to bend some and think of the other person.”
Fritz and Joann Temme
While the Erickson’s celebrate their 67th in the spring, Fritz and Joann Temme won’t be far behind, reaching their 67th anniversary this August.
The Temme's families actually lived across the street from one another at one time before either was born, but it would be a chance meeting at an outdoor skating rink underneath a tent just west of Main Street on the south side of town where the two would first meet.
“His sister was a good friend of mine, but it was at the skating rink where we got acquainted,” Joann said.
Fritz remembered the first song they skated to was “Cruising Down The River,” and the couple dated on and off for a few years before Joann got her diamond in a rather simple, unceremonius manner.
“He never really proposed,” she said. “He was leaving for Korea and one night we were in the car and he said ‘If you open the glove compartment, there’s a box in there’ and that was how I got my diamond.”
“I guess the simple approach worked,” Fritz added, laughing.
About two months after the couple tied the knot, though, Fritz Temme was called to serve in the U.S. Army during the Korean Conflict. He got lucky, though — he wound up serving in the Caribbean command.
“I lucked out. I spent 1 1/2 years in the Panama Canal,” he said, adding that his job was to drive the chief of the command and other officers around the base, noting that he could see the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in the same day, as it was 50 miles from one to the other from where he was stationed.
The Temmes communicated almost daily through the mail, as that was their only method of communication at that time.
“It was 1951 and there was no cell phones or anything like that,” Joann Temme said. “The one time he did call, I missed it because I was attending a high school graduation so I missed him calling to say he was back in the States.”
Joann Temme said she thought it would be tough being without her new husband for a long period of time after having only been married a couple of months, but it turned out not to be as tough as she first thought.
“At the time it seemed awful to be without him for two years, but my cousin had been married several years before her husband was shipped out and it was a lot harder on her,” she said. “I was able to stay at my grandmother’s and go to college until he came home.”
The Temmes said they felt fortunate not to have had too many challenges in their 66-plus years of marriage.
“We didn’t have too many bumps in the road over the years,” Fritz said.
“God was always our partner,” Joann added. “When we went to bed at night, we made sure things were settled and we tell each other ‘I love’ you often. That’s always been that way.”
Ernie and Lyla Swanson
When Ernie Swanson saw the good-looking tall girl rolling by at a skating rink in Laurel, he knew he’d found “the one.”
“She was tall and good-lookin’,” he said with a smile. “I saw her and said ‘that’s the one.’”
The two had first met during a party where he had another girl as his date. Later on, she was dating another guy when he asked her out, but she turned him down.
“About a year later he called and asked me out and I wasn’t going with this other guy anymore, so I said yes,” Lyla said.
The rest — as they say — is history.
When they went to the courthouse to get their marriage license, Lyla’s mother had to come along to attest to her daughter’s desire to get married, as she was not yet of legal age to be married, according to state law at the time.”
“I had to take my mother-in-law to the courthouse to get the marriage license,” Ernie said with a laugh.
Shortly after their engagement, Ernie was called into service and served in the Army’s Seventh Division for a little over a year. The two planned their wedding through the mail, where letters were the only connection back home.
“He got a month’s furlough after he came back in June and we got married on the 19th, and then he had to go back to California to finish out the last six months of his commitment,” Lyla said.
The newly-betrothed couple spent six months in San Luis Obispo before returning to Nebraska and settling at the family farm north of Wayne, one that has been in the Swanson family for 115 years, where they still live today.
Ernie had two words to sum up the secret to their 65 years (66 in June) of marriage:
“Yes dear,” he said.
Lyla said it’s all about working together to make things work.
“It’s just a lot of give and take, and it’s been a very good relationship for both of us,” she said. “We had three kids together, and that was a job in itself and we were very fortunate.”
Paul and LaVon Biermann
The Biermanns will celebrate their 54th anniversary this June, but their wedding almost didn’t happen.
The two met while LaVon was going to summer school at Wayne State College. Paul worked on a farm with one of her cousins, and the two met during a summer baseball game in a cow pasture on the farm north of Wisner.
“I saw her and thought I could be interested,” Paul said with a smile.
“I thought he was nice,” LaVon added, “and when he called to ask me on a date I said yes.”
Their first date was going to see “Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse” at a movie theater in Wisner, and they dated for two years before they got married.
The year before they were married, however, Paul was traveling home after visiting LaVon in Wausa, where she was teaching school. He was driving home that evening and fell asleep behind the wheel of his vehicle.
“When I woke up, I saw a bridge railing right in front of me,” he said. “It could have been a bad deal, but I’m still here.”
Fortunately, he was able to get out of trouble without incident, and the two married in Orchard in June of 1964 and settled on his family’s farm near Wisner.
The Biermanns stayed on the farm until several years ago, and were in Canada when they learned their brother — who had bought the property — lost everything in the Pilger tornadoes.
“We were in Canada celebrating our 50th anniversary when the tornadoes hit,” he said.
“They couldn’t even find the stove or refrigerator,” LaVon added. “The house took a direct hit.”
The secret to their marital success, like the others, has centered around a team effort.
“We have a lot of similarities and a lot in common, but it’s really about compromise,” LaVon said. “You don’t always get your way, and that’s just a part of life.”