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Love Story: He was smitten before first date

Thu., April 11, 2013

Peggy and Don Thomas celebrated their 62nd anniversary in January. The couple met on a blind date in San Diego and married a year and half later. (Colin Mulvany)
Peggy and Don Thomas celebrated their 62nd anniversary in January. The couple met on a blind date in San Diego and married a year and half later. (Colin Mulvany)

For some it takes just one look – for others one date. But Don Thomas didn’t even need that.

“Before I ever went out with her I knew she was the one I was going to marry,” he said.

It was the summer of 1949 and Don’s friend Barbara told him she was setting him up with Peggy.

“Barbara was worried about me because I’d been dating a lot of different girls,” he said.

That first date – a beach party at Mission Beach in San Diego – proved so successful that Don asked Peggy out the following two days, as well.

Then he left town.

“I went to Michigan to visit old friends. I was gone 40 days,” Don said.

Meanwhile, Peggy had been smitten with the handsome young man.

“I asked him to write to me while he was gone,” she said. “But when he didn’t I thought well, maybe this might not be it.”

Don shook his head at the memory. “I was dumb!”

She finally got one letter, and when he returned to San Diego he immediately called. But that doesn’t mean they spent a lot of time together. Don had joined the Marine Reserves, and worked 12-hour shifts at his day job.

In 1950, he was called to active duty because of the Korean War. They’d already decided to marry, but Don said it was still a surprise when Peggy came to visit him at Camp Matthews and announced, “I got my wedding dress today!”

Knowing he’d soon be shipped out, they chose to marry during his 10-day leave.

“I put together a formal wedding in two weeks,” Peggy said.

Don laughed. “I gave her $30 and she went and bought our wedding rings.”

They married Jan. 2, 1951, and honeymooned in Idyllwild in the San Jacinto Mountains. Two months later Don left for Korea.

His enlistment was up after nine months and he returned home in time for Christmas. He resumed his job at the gas company. Daughter Terry arrived in 1952 and there were other changes afoot. “We decided I should go back to college,” Don said.

They moved into college housing at San Diego State University where they paid $34 a month for rent and utilities. The family grew with the birth of Jenny in 1955. Between work, school and family, Don said, “I didn’t sleep for three and a half years.”

After graduating with his teaching certificate, he taught secondary math. As their daughters grew, Peggy thought about returning to work. Those plans changed when she found out she was expecting again.

“I was told we couldn’t have any more children,” she said.

Ten days before giving birth, she found out she was expecting twins.

“I went to the school where Don was teaching and waited for him to come to the teacher’s lounge,” Peggy said. “Then I told him.”

Don smiled. “It was the only time I went home for lunch!”

Twins Sam and Andy were born in 1964, and 18 months later the family drove cross-country to Kansas, where Don had accepted a teaching position at St. John’s Lutheran College.

Still another surprise lay in store for the family. They’d traveled to Maryland with Don while he attended ongoing education classes. While there Peggy began to gain weight. Shortly before they returned to Kansas she decided she’d better see a doctor.

“I looked up doctors in the phone book and chose Dr. Botch.” She grinned. “I chose him because I said if I’m pregnant I’d really botched things up!”

Sure enough, she was expecting and gave birth to Pete in 1968. They moved to Los Angeles for a couple years, leaving daughter Terry in Kansas where she attended college. Two years in L.A. was plenty and when Don received an offer to teach in Ione, Wash., they jumped at the chance – even though neither of them had any idea where Ione was.

When they moved to Washington, Jenny stayed in California. “Our kids didn’t move out, we moved away!” Don said.

They quickly adapted to small-town life. Don taught at Selkirk School for 18 years, and Peggy worked as school secretary at Ione Elementary for 16 years. They bought a home in Ione. “We could open the windows and hear the creek,” Don said.

Peggy said she loved the location. “The people in Ione are just wonderful.” Several years ago, health issues caused them to move to Spokane to be closer to their doctors.

By the time they both retired, they were well-prepared. The couple had spent every summer taking long trips in their fifth-wheel trailer. Don said, “We got used to retirement because we spent a lot of time in the cab of a Toyota truck.”

Retirement just meant more time for travel. They crisscrossed the country with a group of friends and traveled outside the U.S. as well. Recalling a memorable trip to New Zealand during which they rented a motor home, Peggy said: “He was the driver. I sat in the screamer seat.”

Navigating winding narrow roads while driving on the left proved to be quite an adventure.

They laughed a lot while reminiscing about their lives together. “He’s so easygoing,” Peggy said. “He’s not a thunderous person.”

Sixty-two years of marriage haven’t swayed Don’s initial reaction at the mention of Peggy’s name.

“I knew I was going to be in love with her before I met her.”

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