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Washington Voices

Love Story: Bollmans knew right from the start

The feisty first-grader at Chester Elementary caught his eye when Leo Bollman was a sophisticated third-grader. Alas, before he could woo her, Dolores and her family moved away.

However, when she returned to Chester in the seventh grade, Leo wasted no time. “There were sparks,” Dolores recalled, smiling. “We were pretty serious right away.”

Leo, now 79, was a serious kid. He started working on area farms at age 9. “I drove horses for the hay wagon, pitched loose hay, built fence,” he said. “I’m glad for that experience.”

In fact, he thinks the child labor laws were one of the worst things that happened to our country. “Kids want to work – they want to help,” he said. “The old-timers taught me how work. I learned that sore muscles and blisters wouldn’t kill me. I learned about life.”

And while he worked in the fields and barns, Dolores rolled up her sleeves and worked alongside the farmer’s wives in their kitchens or doing housework.

By the time Leo was a sophomore at Central Valley High School, he owned a ’36 Ford. That car became an anticipated sight at Dolores’s bus stop. “He’d drop me off at my bus stop and all the kids would have their faces pressed to the windows,” she said. “I’d give him a kiss sometimes and the kids would be watching for it!”

Their relationship intensified through a series of letters. “We wrote love notes to each other and his brother passed them back and forth between us,” said Dolores. “His brother swears he never read them! I looked forward to those notes every morning.” Glancing at Leo she said, “I think I was a sucker for his words.”

She still has those notes packed away somewhere safe from prying eyes.

Leo never dated anyone else. “I was shy,” he said. And he’d already found the girl he wanted to marry. But once, Dolores’s twin brothers fixed her up on a date with another guy. It didn’t go well. “He tried to kiss me goodnight,” she said. “I slapped him.”

During high school, Leo played football and was on the track team, but every spring he’d quit track to do farm work. “My folks were poor, so I bought my own school clothes and gas, and budgeted for dates with Dolores.”

He dreamed of having his own farm, but by the time he was a senior he realized that dream would be far out of his reach. He took a job with Kaiser Aluminum, instead. He worked the 4 to midnight shift and missed his commencement ceremony. “I went to work and picked up my diploma later,” he said.

Now that he had a steady job, he felt ready to be a husband, but Leo never actually proposed to Dolores. “I’m the dumbest guy,” he said. “I just assumed we’d be together.”

His assumption proved correct. On Sept. 25, 1953, they were married at a small church in Coeur d’Alene. Dolores was just 17 – a senior in high school.

Both sets of parents witnessed their wedding, but no photos were taken. There wasn’t enough money for extras. However, they did take a honeymoon. After the wedding they drove to Wallace and spent the night. The next day they headed to Yellowstone, but quickly discovered it was farther away than they thought, plus it was closed for the season. So they went to Helena and Missoula, instead.

That pattern of getting behind the wheel and driving became a habit for the couple and their growing family. In 1955, their daughter, Barbara, arrived, followed by Betty Jo in 1957, Michael in 1962 and Mitchell in 1964.

“When we got married we made a commitment to have a vacation every year,” Dolores said. “And we did it every year – we still do.”

These were no trips to Europe or luxury cruises. Instead, their vacations were just like their honeymoon – they got into their car and drove, often with no set destination in mind.

Leo said a tight budget didn’t stop the family outings. “We didn’t have any money, but gas was cheap. We’d buy a package of wieners and buns; take some condiments and maybe some chips and a can of pop a piece.”

They took the back roads and byways and discovered great camping spots. After setting up a tent, they’d roast the hot dogs over the campfire. Leo said, “We’d sing corny songs with a reel-to-reel tape recorder.”

Dolores smiled. “Our kids loved it!”

In 1969, they packed their family up for an even bigger adventure. The couple had been active for many years at Chester Community Church and felt that they needed to further their knowledge. After arranging a leave of absence from Kaiser, the family traveled to Saskatchewan, Canada, to attend Millar Memorial Bible Institute. For three years they studied at the school, returning to work in Spokane Valley during the summer breaks.

Upon graduation, Leo accepted an invitation to pastor the Chester church. He led the church for 14 years and worked full-time at Kaiser, as well.

Memories of those happy times gave them strength when their son, Michael, 42, died from complications of Crohn’s disease in 2006.

“He lived with us for 10 to 12 years,” Dolores said. “He was such a part of us. His death was the hardest thing we’ve faced.”

Leo nodded. “When Mike was here the room was alive. It was different when he was gone.”

They found comfort in their deep faith and in a familiar activity. Shortly after Mike’s death, they got into the car and drove to Canada to spend time with their daughter, who’d settled there with her family.

The Bollmans have seen many changes throughout their six decades of marriage, but some things stay the same – old friendships for example. Each month they enjoy lunch with classmates from Chester Elementary School at a Spokane Valley restaurant.

Dolores, 77, said the secret to a lasting marriage is to “remember you’re on the same team and work side by side.”

Leo agreed and added, “Don’t allow wedges to grow between you. Swallow your pride and solve your problems.”

He still can’t explain what it was about Dolores that captivated him so many years ago. “There was no doubt in my mind that she was mine,” he said. “We could talk for hours about everything.

And 60 years later they still haven’t run out of things to talk about. Dolores said, “We just love each other.”