After spending the last 70 years of his life happily married, Walt Russell has one piece of advice for newlyweds: Don’t hold a grudge.
Walt, who resides at the Frederick Homewood Retirement Center with his wife, Joan, said he never thought they would be married for this long, let alone stay alive. They dated for six months before getting married on June 13, 1948.
“It wasn’t dare (sic) what you thought you’d might do — go that long,” Joan said. “You thought maybe you’d make it to 50.”
A recent high school graduate at the time, Joan married her husband when she was 18 and he was 21 years old at her grandparents’ home in Maricopa, Ca., with her grandfather performing the ceremony, she said.
The couple celebrated their anniversary at the New Market United Methodist Church School House in June. More than 50 people attended the event, which Joan called a party for family and friends, a stark difference from the more family-oriented ceremony held 70 years ago.
The celebration was organized by family member Cathy Mitchell. Their pastor, Scott Clawson, attended the 70th wedding celebration, and said even at the party, Walt made sure to introduce him to other guests, including former ministers who also reside at Homewood.
“They think young … they try to keep active,” Mitchell said. “They keep with their different groups and I think that’s what distinguishes them and keeps them going.”
The two met at a teen recreational center in Maricopa. Joan was still in high school at the time and dating Walt’s best friend, Chuck. Walt was immediately attracted to Joan but was called to serve in the Army for 14 months, as the World War II draft was still in operation, he said.
“I sure thought about it,” he explained. “I liked her, but I wasn’t going to interfere.”
Though her future husband was nice enough not to interfere with his buddy’s relationship, once she and Chuck broke up, Walt “swooped in,” Joan said.
Joan’s parents, concerned since the couple wed at such a young age, feared that she would not finish school. But the two did, and both became teachers after graduating from Fresno State College, she said.
The couple had two children, Gary and Steven Russell, in 1949 and 1952, respectively. Joan, acting as the family’s caretaker, took on most household responsibilities as Walt finished school and entered the workforce before she did. She controlled everything in the home, from the radio to the thermostat, Walt said.
“If I felt the AC was too high, I’d put a sweater on,” Walt joked.
The couple shared many new experiences together. Their honeymoon in the Catalina Islands was Joan’s first airplane ride. The two would share many more as their Lions Club membership allowed them to travel around the country.
Two years into the marriage, Walt was unsure if he wanted to become a teacher or follow his father and work for the highways in California. He made the decision to go back to college, which he called a major turning point in his life.
“I wasn’t thinking about the money,” Walt said. “[I was thinking about] what I need to do. What I want to do. I decided to go back to school and become a teacher.”
The couple, who also stressed the importance of a good budget, worked hard not to overspend on a teacher’s salary, Walt said.
After giving birth to their first son, the couple was living paycheck to paycheck, Walt said. Fortunately, their financial situation alleviated after Walt won a brand new ’52 Plymouth from a major Los Angeles daily newspaper after correctly predicting scores of football games.
Despite a changing culture, Joan said patience, loyalty and religion were the sources of their marriage’s strength throughout the years.
“His honesty and Christianity. I was sure he would work hard as a good provider,” Joan said.
Walt, who said life changed drastically after World War II, noted how much time affected the culture of marriage. Today, the two have a much more multicultural family, as their grandchildren married interracially.
“We never thought of having something like that,” Joan said. “But we take it as it is. They’re all wonderful people.”
The couple, who called themselves avid travelers, enjoyed trips to countries around the world. For their 65th anniversary, they rode on a cruise with their family, including their five grandchildren.
The couple moved to Frederick in 2005 in order to be closer to their grandkids, Joan said. They remained active in the community by joining the Frederick Lions Club.
Friend and fellow Lions Club serviceman, Robert Sharpe, said the couple remains youthful and energetic, despite whatever life may throw at them.
“They have health problems, but they still keep on going,” Sharpe said. “They have a very positive, cheerful outlook on life, even at their age … I don’t know many people who have been married that long — in fact a lot of people don’t even make it to 70.”
Walt, who had heart surgery in 2013, said his wife took care of him each day in the wake of the surgery. Joan, who quipped that she was a teacher and not a nurse, said she learned a lot about nursing when her husband was in recovery.
“I would say they’re just distinguished in their commitment. They just don’t retire from life,” Clawson said. “They continue to go and continue to serve and it’s just astonishing the energy that they have.”
The couple has traveled to every state in the country and called the trips with their grandchildren their favorite memories throughout the years.
“Make every day worthwhile,” Joan said. “No matter what, make it a good day and one that you can be proud of, whatever occurs.”