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Opinion >  Column

Doug Clark: Acceptance key to couple’s 70-year marriage

The big December countdown has begun.

We’re seven days away from the 70th wedding anniversary of Lonnie and Peg Roe.

Oh, yeah. The countdown to Christmas is ticking, too.

But everyone knows about that. I want to focus some well-deserved limelight on the genuine milestone that this Spokane Valley couple will soon reach.

High school sweethearts in Idaho’s tiny Potlatch, the lumber town where they met, the couple spoke their vows on Dec. 21, 1944.

Hitler was still in power. Gasoline and tires were rationed commodities. Lonnie, who had joined the U.S. Navy, was just out of boot camp.

Five kids and seven decades later, the Roes continue to inspire.

Add me to the list of admirers thanks to son Tom, who asked me to write about his parents.

“It’s very rare that any relationship lasts 70 years, much less a marriage,” said the Everett resident, adding that the love his parents share is “humbling to behold.”

He sold me.

So on Friday morning, I drove to the Valley to see for myself.

The Roes, both 88, greeted me at the door of the immaculate ranch-style home they bought in 1964. Both Roes were dressed like they were headed for church, which I took as a compliment given my own sartorial failings.

Parked on the living room couch, I didn’t take long to notice the commitment that Tom had told me about.

The Roes took turns speaking, each waiting patiently for the other to finish a thought.

Statistics from the American Psychological Association show that “healthy marriages are good for couples’ mental and physical health.” Yet nearly half of all marriages end in divorce.

What gives?

“Accepting each other,” said Peg, when I asked what the key to a happy marriage was.

“I think that’s it,” agreed Lonnie.

Working together as a team doesn’t hurt, either.

The Roes mirrored the American values of the era.

Peg was homemaker, raising five children – Bonnie, Tom, Rob, Ed and Ann – while Lonnie brought home the bacon, working 35 years at Kaiser Aluminum.

After the war, Lonnie graduated from the University of Idaho with a degree in electrical engineering.

Being a single-income family, however, had financial consequences.

The Roes, who moved to the Spokane area in 1951, say they had to get by without buying expensive cars and other luxuries.

“I did anything that would help the kids,” said Peg, mentioning things like PTA meetings and Scouting programs.

“I don’t think we ever considered your working,” noted Lonnie, before adding, “I have great respect for what Peg did, handling the kids.”

What the Roes lacked in buying power paid off in other ways, said firstborn Bonnie.

“The five of us kids bonded a lot and helped each other in the growing years,” she said. “We got to experience Spokane as it was in the old days.”

Mission was a dirt road back then. The freeway was a coming attraction. Farms and wilderness made up the Valley.

“Mom would put all us kids in the wagon and we’d go pick flowers,” added Bonnie. “It was a wonderful, free time.”

Every family has ups, downs and in-betweens. There are tough times and triumphs.

“The main thing is that there has been a lot of mutual growth from everybody, including Mom and Dad,” Bonnie explained. “They were able to, even in their older years, adapt and grow.”

Too many people today simply “don’t have the patience to work out” their problems, said Peg.

The Roes will be the stars of a 70th anniversary party on the 21st.

A room has been rented. Hopefully it will be big enough for all the husbands, wives, 11 grandkids and 18 great-grandchildren.

There will be laughs and tears, for sure. Maybe a story or two will be told, like the time a skunk got stuck in one of their window wells.

Lonnie leaned a board into the well in hopes that the critter would climb out. But when the wood’s surface proved too slippery, Peg hatched an amended plan: tack a patch of red carpet onto a wider plank.

Sure enough, it worked.

With one slight wrinkle. The skunk liked the rug so much that he pulled it off and tried to waddle away with it.

“Giving the skunk the red carpet treatment” is what Lonnie called it.

To me, it’s just another example of Roe teamwork.

“The main thing that amazes me is the way they have helped each other grow and change with the times,” said Tom of his parents.

“Their commitment to each other and to the family cements us together.”

Doug Clarkcan be reached at (509) 459-5432 or dougc@spokesman.com.

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