October 13, 2012 in Washington Voices

Sock from a sassy girl really got his attention

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Colin Mulvany photoBuy this photo

Ella and Dick Nolt met in Saskatchewan when he was serving as a volunteer minister. They married in 1952 and recently celebrated their 60th anniversary.
(Full-size photo)

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Sixty-two years ago, a sock in the shoulder got the attention of Dick Nolt, and the girl who gave him the playful punch has kept his attention ever since.

Dick, originally from Ohio, had come to Vidora, Saskatchewan, in 1950 to serve one year as a volunteer youth pastor.

Dick boarded at the train station and had organized a game night in the station’s waiting room. Ella walked in and saw him playing Chinese checkers with a girl.

She went over to him, slugged him in the arm and said, “What are you doing playing checkers with my best friend?”

Dick wasn’t sure what to think about the sassy 14-year-old, but Ella thought he was wonderful. That night, as she walked home with her mother, she said, “I’m going to get him.”

Her mother replied, “You’re too young!”

And she was. She turned 15 two weeks after they met, but as the oldest of 11 children, Ella had more responsibility and maturity than most girls her age. She’d quit school in the eighth grade to care for an ailing aunt in Victoria, B.C. Her lack of worldly experience was revealed at the train station.

“When they told me I had to take a berth on the train, I broke down and started crying,” she recalled. The only “births” she knew about involved babies.

When she returned from Victoria she stayed home to help her mother care for their ever-growing family.

And at that young age, she knew Dick was the man for her. “It was his eyes,” she said. “When he looked at me, he looked right into my soul.”

Dick was also smitten. When asked what attracted him to Ella, he grinned. “Her eyes, her smile, her openness.”

Ella began volunteering with the youth program and they saw each often. Her dad called Dick “Preacher Boy,” and six months after they met, Dick proposed. “I asked her father for permission to marry her, but he said she had to wait until she was 16.”

In February 1951, Dick left to attend Bethany Seminary in Chicago. Ella and her family had moved to a farm with no telephone service. “Communication was difficult,” Dick said. “We’d have to set a date ahead of time, and she’d have to go into town and wait at the pay phone.”

Ella sighed. “I’d wait and wait for his call.

Dick shook his head. “It was a long, lonesome four months.”

As soon as school was out in June, Dick returned to Saskatchewan. He stayed and worked throughout the summer, and when Ella turned 16, he took her to Ohio to meet his family.

Dick said his dad was a stern man – “Bossy,” Ella said – but he took Ella out and bought her new snow boots. “I’d never had new snow boots,” she said. “We were poor.”

They returned to Saskatchewan in the spring and were married on April 27, 1952.

On their wedding night Ella mistakenly signed her maiden name on the guest register at the hotel and the proprietor denied them a room. “It was so embarrassing!” she recalled.

After Dick offered to get their marriage license from the car, they were allowed to stay.

When it was time to leave for Ohio, Ella’s mother grieved. “I was 16 years old and moving so far away. She didn’t know when she’d see me again,” she said.

They weren’t in Ohio long. Dick had been drafted for service in the Korean War. However, his membership in the Church of the Brethren meant he was assigned two years of alternate service. The Church of the Brethren opposes war.

The military sent him to the University of Maryland and he served his time at the university’s dairy farm. Ella joined him, and in December 1953, she gave birth to their son, William.

When he’d completed his service they moved to Havre, Mont., where Dick took a job with Safeway. “We lived in a converted boxcar,” Ella said. She delighted in making a home for her family wherever they lived.

And their family grew. In 1958, daughter Joy arrived, followed by son Brad in 1961.

Soon they moved to Spokane, where Dick worked for Looft’s Grocery Store. Daughter Judy completed their family in 1967. Ella’s mother came to be with her for the birth – something she’d never been able to do before. “She stayed with us and the baby wouldn’t come!” said Dick. “She finally went home to Saskatchewan and a week later Judy was born.”

In 1969, the family moved to Wilbur, Wash., where Dick managed, and eventually purchased, a small grocery store. He also served as the part-time pastor of Keller Community Church for 14 years.

Ella kept busy with their growing brood and operated a day care, as well. She eventually worked as a paraprofessional in the Wilbur School District.

Dick sold the grocery store in 1979. “I was getting tired,” he said. He found a rewarding second career as a social worker. He worked for the Columbia River Area Agency on Aging before retiring in 1997.

They returned to Spokane, but didn’t settle into rocking chairs. While on vacation in Mazatlan they discovered Vineyard Ministries – a church that works with the poorest of the poor in Mexico.

Dick said. “We enjoyed helping them so much, I said, ‘I’ve got to get a job. I want to come back.’ ”

So he got a job as a school bus driver and Ella worked at a local day care. They’ve made many trips to Mexico over the years and enjoy volunteering with Vineyard Ministries. Although they both finally retired, they still retain their passion to help others.

They’re contemplating another trip to Mexico in January, even though Ella, 77, had a stroke in 2009 and lost the vision in her left eye, and Dick, 80, had a pacemaker put in several years ago. “We’ve always strived to do everything together,” Dick said.

That togetherness has spanned more than 60 years, but thankfully slugs gave way to kisses after that first meeting.

“He’s a kisser and always has been,” Ella said, smiling. “We’ve been best friends for 62 years. I don’t ever want that to change.”

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