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Fifty years together

Jean and Morris Clark will celebrate their 50th anniversary Saturday.  (Brian Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Jean and Morris Clark will celebrate their 50th anniversary Saturday. (Brian Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Listening a key to happiness

Longtime Spokane residents remember that before there was Macy’s at NorthTown Mall, before there was Frederick and Nelson, before there was the Crescent, W.T. Grant’s Department Store occupied that prime piece of real estate on North Division Street.

Morris Clark certainly hasn’t forgotten. That’s where he noticed Jean Vanderberg for the first time. “I saw this good-looking gal, carrying a bag of money,” he said. It was March 1958 and Morris had just gotten out of the Marines.

Jean laughed. “I was a sales clerk and I was collecting the excise tax from each register. There was probably only $3 to $4 in the bag.”

“I didn’t know that at the time,” Morris confided. But the money bag wasn’t the only attraction. “I just wanted to get close to her.”

Jean had a different reaction. She’d noticed him in the store before but wasn’t impressed. The 20-year-old with the snazzy haircut and cool clothes struck her as arrogant and not her type.

“I know for her it was love at first sight once she saw me,” Morris teased. Jean smiled at him from across the room, shook her head and said, “No … I don’t agree with that.”

Her would-be suitor wasn’t daunted. He hung around the store wearing his pink shirt and black pegged-leg pants. “I wore her down.”

Their first date was a movie at the North Division Drive-In. More dates followed. Jean said his personality won her over. “We just seemed to get along, right away,” she said. “He was sweet.” Morris was her date to her senior prom at Rogers High School, and on Aug. 2, 1958, he became her husband.

When asked about the speed of their five-month courtship, the couple agreed that’s just the way things were done at the time. There wasn’t any premarital counseling. The fact that they were in love and their parents approved was all they needed. They didn’t spend a long engagement accumulating household stuff, a practice Jean observes in couples of this era. “Nowadays, you have to have what your parents have before you get married,” Jean said, referring to how long many couples wait to wed.

Her husband nodded. “But we worked hard together to build what we had.”

Morris was working as an apprentice pressman for The Spokesman-Review. There wasn’t time or money for a honeymoon. However, they did book a room at a hotel for their wedding night. They didn’t tell anyone where they were staying, but Morris’ brother and his wife managed to track them down. It was a hot August night and their room wasn’t air-conditioned. They’d fallen asleep with the window partially opened. Around 2 a.m. the smell of fried chicken woke them. Morris brother had clambered through their window and brought a box of chicken with him. Fifty years later that middle-of-the-night feast still makes them laugh.

Three children were added to their family in quick succession. Morris left the Spokesman and soon went to work for Burgan’s Furniture. For the young family, a special night out was a trip to A&W. The kids got free tiny mugs of root beer.

In 1980 Morris started his own siding and roofing business. Jean said, “He worked a lot of long hours, six days a week, but never Sunday.” That day was reserved for family and church activities.

“I couldn’t have done it without her,” Morris said. “She’s always been so supportive I probably couldn’t fail at anything I tried.”

Jean had long since returned to the site of their first meeting. Grant’s Department Store was gone, but for twenty-five years she worked at the Crescent and then Frederick and Nelson.” They were very accommodating to mothers with kids,” she said. Despite their busy lives, the couple made spending time together a priority – even if it was just working in the yard.

Now they’re both retired and enjoying their freedom. They travel to warm climates each winter and delight in spending time with their five grandchildren. Two years ago, Morris founded the Spokane Senior Softball League. Jean attends all his games and even keeps score when needed. She still gets together with her classmates from Rogers High School. “We’re very close,” she said.

The Clarks agreed two things have kept them happy together for 50 years: commitment and listening. Jean said they’ve always been interested in what each other has to say. And while they both have strong personalities, taking the time to really listen has made their marriage enjoyable.

They aren’t one of those couples who sit across the table from each other in silence. “When we go out to lunch, our jaws are flapping away,” Morris said with a laugh.

Correspondent Cindy Hval can be reached at