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Love not only spark in long marriage

Ray and Betty Stone at their home in Coeur d’Alene on  Feb. 26. They first saw each other on July 4, 1936, in Winchester, Idaho. They will celebrate their 66th wedding anniversary this (Kathy Plonka)
Ray and Betty Stone at their home in Coeur d’Alene on Feb. 26. They first saw each other on July 4, 1936, in Winchester, Idaho. They will celebrate their 66th wedding anniversary this (Kathy Plonka)

Though Ray and Betty Stone met for the first time on the Fourth of July 1936, fireworks didn’t ensue. Twelve-year-old Betty was taking a spin on the merry-go-round when Ray, 13, approached. “He said, ‘Can I ride with you, sister?’ ” Betty recalled. “I said, ‘I’m not your sister.’ ” And that was that.

The two grew up in towns just eight miles apart; Betty in Craigmont, Idaho, and Ray in Winchester. “In small towns like that you just look around for the girls and find the one you like and go for it,” said Ray.

So when he came across Betty again when he was a sophomore in high school, he asked her out. However, she lived with her aunt and uncle and they refused to let her date until she was 16. So Ray waited.

The two began dating shortly after Betty’s birthday. “Ray used to come over on Sundays and have dinner with us,” Betty said.

“I got a free dinner that way,” Ray explained. But he did his part. He’d bring the meat for the meal after charging it to his family’s account at the grocery store.

Ray started drumming while in high school and soon had a regular gig. “I drummed with the band on Saturday nights and earned $8,” he recalled. “Then the next day I’d go out and spend it all on Betty.”

After graduation, Ray attended college in Lewiston, but the events of Dec. 7, 1941, interrupted his education. “We were having Sunday dinner when we heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor,” Betty said.

Ray enlisted in the Army and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, and sent to Texas for training. Betty, still a senior in high school, missed her sweetheart, but he faithfully wrote to her. One letter in particular stands out. Betty said, “Just before I graduated Ray wrote me a letter, asking me to come to Texas and marry him.”

Her mother opposed the marriage, so Betty enrolled at the University of Idaho. But Ray kept writing and Betty continued to respond. As the war efforts intensified, Betty moved to Portland where she worked as a welder in the shipyards. There another proposal from Ray reached her. This time he also sent a ring in the mail, and this time Betty accepted.

On July 8, 1944, the couple exchanged vows in a small Presbyterian church in San Angelo, Texas. One month later, Ray was sent overseas.

He fought in three campaigns including the Battle of the Bulge. The horrors of war became most apparent to the young paratrooper when he and his company liberated Camp Wobbelin in Nazi Germany. They discovered thousands of dead and dying prisoners in the compound.

As Ray spoke of this time, he briefly gazed out of their living room window, with its stunning view of Lake Coeur d’ Alene. He shrugged, shook his head and said, “It was bad, but what the hell.”

While her husband was fighting his way across Germany, Betty had returned to Winchester and began teaching school. “I was only 20,” she said. “But I was teaching band to some of the kids I had been in band with!”

“Finally, in February 1946, after marching in the historic victory parade in New York City, Ray returned home. They bought a new house for $1,200 and Ray went to work at the lumber mill.

However, he didn’t stay there long. Thanks to the GI Bill, Ray was able to complete the education the war had interrupted. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Whitworth College in 1951, and a master’s degree in education the following year.

Betty continued her education as well and received a degree in counseling from Whitworth. They both taught in Coeur d’Alene public schools, but soon Ray began a long career at North Idaho College. Eventually, he was appointed dean.

In 1957, Betty spotted a little boy with blond curly hair on the school playground. Something about the child captivated her. “He looked angelic,” she recalled. “But he wasn’t.”

After talking with the child’s teacher she discovered that 8-year-old Daniel was a troubled little boy. He’d already lived in eight homes in the past year and was soon to be sent to an orphanage. Betty couldn’t have that. She and Ray adopted their only child and brought him home. Daniel died eight years ago, but the Stones have two granddaughters and three great-grandchildren.

Their six decades of marriage haven’t been without turmoil. Ray served eight years as a city councilman and later served two terms as mayor of Coeur d’Alene from 1985 to1994. During his tenure, the Aryan Nations organization did its best to wreak havoc in North Idaho.

“They’d harass by phone,” Betty said. “I wanted to get an unlisted number but Ray said no.” And that wasn’t the only clash of opinions the couple had. “I have very different philosophies of life,” she said.

“She’s more politically conservative,” added her husband.

Their hobbies didn’t always mesh, either. Ray enjoys golf and Betty laughed and said, “I was a very good golf widow.” She did attempt to learn the game and took a few lessons. Then she and Ray headed out to the course. Ray wasn’t impressed with her grip and told her so. She didn’t appreciate his comments.

“She said, ‘I’m going home,’ ” Ray recalled. “I said, ‘You can’t! We’ve still got a lot of balls in the bucket.’ ”

“Watch me,” she replied, and walked home.

Betty raised her eyebrows and smiled. “We quarrel a lot.”

Her husband agreed, adding, “But in the final analysis we love each other. She’s been the best person I could have chosen for my kind of lifestyle.”

And this summer when the Stones celebrate their 66th wedding anniversary, they plan to drive to Spokane and take a spin on the Looff Carrousel at Riverfront Park. Betty said, “This time I’ll let him ride with me.”