In May 1940, Gary Cooper, Ginger Rogers and Mickey Rooney graced the covers of movie magazines; Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of Great Britain; and in a tiny town in Montana, Clyde and Mary Jane Walden married.
Seventy years later, they are still smiling.
The couple met while attending high school in Montour, Idaho. The small school had an active drama group and they put on many plays. Clyde and Mary Jane got to know each other during the hours spent rehearsing and performing.
Clyde’s father, a minister, had come to build a church in a neighboring town, a fact that didn’t sit well with Mary Jane’s dad, a farmer. “Her dad said, ‘Don’t go out with that guy, ’cause he’s a preacher’s son,’ ” Clyde recalled.
But the preacher’s boy had already figured out how to win the approval of the industrious farmer. “I hired on to help him work during the harvest. When he saw how hard I worked, he never said another word.”
Two years later, when Clyde’s family moved to Montana, the couple kept their relationship alive through letters.
As Clyde prepared for high school graduation, his sister, Ruth, drove to Montour and picked up Mary Jane so she could attend the ceremony. “Two days after his graduation he asked me to marry him,” said Mary Jane. The next day, under an arch of wildflowers she and Ruth had gathered, Clyde and Mary Jane were married. The quick wedding made sense to the couple. “We’d gone together for over two years,” said Mary Jane, plus she didn’t have a way to get back to Idaho.
Their honeymoon consisted of a daylong hike in the nearby Mission Mountains – with Clyde’s parents. Mary Jane said, “It was a beautiful day, but, oh, the ticks we brought back!”
Clyde worked six days a week at a hardware store and earned $45 a month for his labor. “It was hard,” he admitted. “No money in those days.”
Mary Jane agreed. “We saved up all week to buy hamburger. It cost 25 cents for three pounds.”
In 1941, they welcomed their first daughter, Barbara. Clyde found a job as a fireman for Northern Pacific Railroad. He spent hours each day shoveling coal to keep the engine going, but the pay made the work worth it. “We were in hog heaven,” he said. “It was a wonderful time. We lived it up because we hadn’t had anything in so long.”
Often, he’d return late at night. They had no car, so he’d walk from the depot to their home. “Some nights, he fell asleep on his feet and stumbled off the side of the road,” Mary Jane said.
With World War II raging, Clyde tried to enlist in the military, but many railroad employees were considered essential civilian workers. “They told me they’d call me when they wanted me,” he said.
Another daughter, Judy, joined the family in 1944, and when she was 11 months old, Uncle Sam called. At 24, Clyde left his wife and daughters and traveled to Texas for training. Mary Jane said, “They recognized leadership quality in him and sent him to OTS (Officer Training School).”
Missing her husband, Mary Jane and Barbara traveled three days by train to visit him, while Clyde’s parents watched the baby. “Clyde was on base and they wouldn’t let him off, but he slipped out to meet me at the hotel. He was only there long enough to say hello, before he had to get back,” she said.
The planned short visit stretched into an entire summer. “Clyde really wanted me to stay,” said Mary Jane. A local radio station gave air time to military wives. Mary Jane went to the station and asked for a place to stay so she could be near her husband. A woman called with an offer of a room for Mary Jane and her 3-year-old daughter.
In September, they returned home and Clyde traveled to his next posting in California. He found military life rewarding. “I enjoyed training the troops very much,” he said. Thirty days before he and his men were to be shipped out, the war ended and he returned to Montana.
Like his father, Clyde decided to enter the ministry and attended Northwest Bible College in Kirkland, Wash. After ordination, the family moved to Hungry Horse, Mont., to start a church. “It was just a wilderness,” Clyde recalled. He built a little cabin for his family and later built a church on a hilltop.
For more than 20 years, Clyde pastored churches throughout the state. In 1953, a third daughter, Bonnie, completed the family.
Years of caring for the needs of others affected Clyde’s physical and emotional health. His brother lived in Seattle, and Clyde decided it was time to change both his career and his location. For the next 31 years, he worked as a finish carpenter for Group Health in Seattle, finally retiring at 70. “I planned to retire at 65, but they talked me out of it,” he said with a laugh.
His steady faithfulness shone at home, as well. Twenty years ago, when Mary Jane battled colon cancer, Clyde was by her side caring for her.
He also devotedly cared for her when she suffered a stroke 14 years ago. Recently, the couple moved to the Spokane area to be near their youngest daughter.
As they talked about their seven decades of marriage, Clyde patted his wife’s hand and said, “I’ve enjoyed all our years together.”