Rolland and Mary Farnsworth may have fallen in love quickly, but they didn’t marry in haste. In fact, their courtship spanned four years. They first saw each other in 1938 at Central Baptist Church.
“She was an attractive brunette with a beautiful smile,” Rolland recalled. “I tumbled pretty hard. My boss was long-suffering because I could hardly think about anything else!”
This was surprising because Rolland was an industrious young man who took his job seriously. He had to – when he was 11, his father died and Rolland shouldered a lot of responsibility for his family. He worked for David L. Jones Wholesale Florist, and Jones became a mentor to the fatherless young man.
Rolland and Mary also lived in the same neighborhood. One day, while Mary was visiting his sister, Rolland offered to walk her home. “That was about it,” said Mary. “It only took us about a month to decide we were going together. You can’t explain love – it just happened.”
However, his younger brother was still in high school and Rolland wanted to make sure his brother graduated before he and Mary wed.
As World War II raged in Europe, they knew Rolland would eventually be drafted. His departure grew more imminent following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“One day he surprised me with an engagement ring,” Mary recalled, smiling. “I think he knew I was getting discouraged.” Her eagerness for marriage turned out to be a very good thing.
Mary said, “One Sunday we decided to get married and we got married the following Sunday afternoon.”
They planned a complete wedding in a week. “Well, we’d had four years to think about it!” she said. The church threw them a surprise wedding shower, she bought a gown at the Crescent, and Rolland’s boss contributed all the floral arrangements, including the bride’s orchid bouquet.
On March 8, 1942, the couple married. On May 25, Rolland received his draft notice.
He was assigned to the Army’s 747th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion and was sent to California for training. “Our mission was to protect the West Coast of the United States,” he said.
In September Mary joined him, thinking her visit would be temporary. She ended up staying two years. She got a job at Woolworth and they rented a room with kitchen privileges. “We got to see each other quite a bit,” she said. “We relished those times.”
Rolland rose swiftly through the enlisted ranks, progressing from buck sergeant to master sergeant within a year.
By 1945, his company had been sent to Fort Bliss, Texas, and once again Mary joined him. “We were due to be sent to the Pacific,” Rolland recalled. “And then they dropped the bomb.”
Instead of going overseas, he and Mary drove across the country to Fort Lewis, Wash., where Rolland spent three months working in the personnel office, due in part to his typing skills.
“That was his first and last 9-to-5 job,” Mary said with a laugh.
Indeed, when they returned to Spokane in 1946, Rolland resumed his job with Jones Wholesale Florist. He and his brother, Oscar, eventually bought the business. “We were a good team,” said Rolland.
“Wholesalers work really hard around Mother’s Day and Christmas,” Mary said. “That’s why he’s always enjoyed Thanksgiving!”
That same year he drew up plans for a house. They needed it because Mary had given birth to their son Bruce that September. Their former pastor and a friend built the house, and Rolland helped when he could. By January 1947, the family moved into the home and stayed there for 28 years.
Two daughters completed their family: Lois, born in 1951, and Claudia in 1955. While Rolland put in long hours at the business, Mary cared for their family. “She was the finest homemaker,” said Rolland. “I really felt that she carried more than her part of the weight.”
However, he made spending time together a priority. In 1968, he took the whole family to Europe for three weeks.
When the kids moved out, the couple built their dream home in Hangman Hills in southwest Spokane. Rolland and his brother sold the floral company in 1981, and the business eventually became Roses & More and is still in operation.
The couple embraced retirement and enjoyed traveling. In fact, they were on a trip to the Oregon coast in July 1987 when they received devastating news. Their home had been engulfed in flames and burned to the ground in what became known as the Hangman Hills Fire. “Our 3,400-square-foot home burned in 15 minutes,” said Rolland.
Thankfully, though 22 homes burned, no lives were lost in the blaze. When the couple returned to their property, they found the only things standing were the fireplace and a few sections of foundation.
While sifting through the rubble they discovered the porcelain bride and groom that had adorned their wedding cake. “We took that as a symbol,” said Rolland.
Though they lost much, family members rallied with copies of wedding and family photos, and within a few months they were settled into their South Hill home.
They say their shared faith has been the bedrock of their 69-year union. The couple still attends Central Baptist Church where they met so many years ago. But they also believe a little romance doesn’t hurt. “Do a lot of kissing,” Mary advised.
And surrounded by flowers in their backyard, Rolland leaned in and gave her a lingering kiss. Mary smiled. “Most people don’t have it this good,” she said.