The diners who packed two Spokane restaurants had a lot in common: gray hair, memories of World War II and a hankering for a free meal.
Hundreds of couples who have been married at least 50 years fished out their marriage certificates and took the Old Country Buffet up on its offer of a complimentary Valentine’s Day dinner Tuesday.
Before they lined up for the buffet on North Division, Giles and Rita Roethle recalled their first meal together. It was in a San Francisco nightclub on their wedding night.
They dated only five times, then endured a two-year separation during World War II before getting married after his return. “And see, it lasted 50 years,” she said.
Couples had to bring their marriage certificates to the North Side or Valley restaurants. With a free meal as a reward, none of them seemed to mind rifling through files or boxes to find the paperwork.
“They’re very thankful,” said Jennie Jones, general manager of the North Division restaurant.”A lot of times seniors are on a fixed income and can’t take their wives out for dinner on Valentine’s Day.”
Also, many couples remember hard times and value a good deal.
Ralph and Violet Sylvester, who’ve been married 54 years, already had three children when he was called to serve in the Army during World War II.
“For her and the kids, they got $120 a month,” he said. “It was just about as tough for everyone else.”
Even though the golden anniversary of Patrick and Allene Mertens isn’t until next month, they still were treated to dinner.
It probably didn’t hurt that the Mertens are Old Country regulars.
Their relationship was twice affected by war. They met at a Spokane dance and went on two dates before Patrick Mertens enlisted in the Air Force. For three years, they corresponded by mail before he returned and they married.
After the wedding, Mertens again worked as an Air Force pilot for four years in the United States and Europe during the Korean War.