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Love story: It took the saxophone to get his attention

When Nelson DePartee moved to St. Maries, all the high school girls, including Marilyn Hustler, noticed the tall, new senior boy.

However, he didn’t notice her at all.

“He didn’t pay any attention to me,” she recalled.

After graduation, Nelson worked at the local sawmill before joining the Navy in 1955. That year, Marilyn graduated and attended the University of Idaho.

“Dad sold a cow to pay for my tuition,” she said. “He sold a cow every fall, so I could continue, and my final year I got a partial scholarship.”

She studied music education, and it was her music that finally got Nelson’s attention.

He’d come home on leave over the holidays, and Marilyn was on break from the university. She played a saxophone solo during the church Christmas program.

“I thought it was pretty impressive,” Nelson said. “I talked to her after the program and gave her my address, and we started a pen pal relationship.”

Both were doing well in their studies. Nelson had been tapped to attend the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, and Marilyn was in her element in the UI music program.

“I’ve always loved music,” she said. “I played the saxophone, piano and bassoon.”

They got to know each other through the flurry of letters they exchanged, and when Nelson next had leave, he attended a concert at the university.

“We never really had much in the way of dates,” he said. “At some point we decided we wanted to get married.”

They both graduated from their respective schools in 1961. Nelson went on to flight school and Marilyn took a teaching job in tiny Murtaugh, Idaho.

Long-distance wedding plans ensued, and the date was set for March 10, 1962. Marilyn’s mother made her gown and baked the cake. The couple traveled to Spokane to pick flowers.

“When we returned there was a hearse in the driveway,” Nelson said. “My father had died sometime during the night.”

His father hadn’t been ill, but he did have asthma, and Nelson suspects he probably had heart problems, as well.

The distraught couple didn’t know what to do. The invitations had been sent months ago.

“I think Dad must’ve had a premonition,” said Nelson. “At the rehearsal dinner he told my Mom that he didn’t want the wedding postponed, no matter what happened.”

And so they honored his father’s wishes and got married.

“It was the happiest and saddest day of my life,” Nelson said.

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they’d received special permission for a civil ceremony, but they traveled to Salt Lake City to have their marriage sealed at the Temple.

“We had the funeral before we left St. Maries,” said Nelson.

Then he dropped his bride off in Murtaugh and returned to Pensacola, Florida.

“I had to finish out my teaching contract,” Marilyn explained.

After less than two weeks together, she watched her husband drive away.

“That was hard,” she admitted.

They resumed their pen pal relationship. Phone calls were too expensive. When the school year ended, Marilyn took her first plane ride to join Nelson.

“Like my friend says, ‘I’m always glad I flew when I’m back on the ground,’ ” she said.

She was sure the little prop plane she took for the final leg of the journey would crash, but she made it safely and found her husband waiting for her.

Things didn’t go well for Nelson at flight school, and he and the Navy parted ways. The couple moved to Spokane where he took a job with the W.T. Grant store and they transferred him to California for training. That’s where their daughter, Mary, was born in 1965. Daughter Jeanne joined the family in 1967 and son Robert completed the family in 1969.

By this time the family was back in Spokane where Nelson worked a variety of sales jobs.

Marilyn was a substitute teacher for a time and taught piano at home for many years.

“I was of the strong mind that a mother should be at home,” she said.

Nelson said for most of their married life he worked two or three jobs.

His work took them to Pullman for more than a decade, but nine years ago when he was ready to retire, they settled in Spokane Valley.

They took an Alaska cruise to celebrate retirement, but for the most part they stay close to home, near their five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

“We’re kind of stick-in-the-muds,” Nelson said, grinning.

They’ve had their share of disagreements during their 56-year marriage, but Marilyn, 80, said, “When we decided to get married, we’d already made the commitment that we were going to do whatever it took to stay married.”

Sometimes that meant taking the dog for a walk.

“When we had disagreements, I’d take the dog for an extra walk,” said Nelson, 82. “We just go our own ways for a bit and then kiss and make up.”

Marilyn said despite often working several jobs, Nelson always made time for her and their children.

“We may not have had much money in the bank, but we’ve always had a roof over our heads,” she said. “And we’ve always had each other.”


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