It took smarts, persistence and not a little effort for Bev Graham to capture the object of her affections and once she nabbed him, she decided to keep him.
Jerry Graham boarded her school bus one morning in 1948, in Billings, Montana.
“I got on the bus first and he walked by my row,” she recalled.
Jerry smiled. “The minute she saw me on the bus, she fell in love.”
Bev decided she wanted him to be her date for the Sadie Hawkins dance. This was an old-school Sadie Hawkins – the girls had to chase the boys around the school and literally “tag” them, in order to secure a date.
But Jerry was fast. Too fast.
“I couldn’t catch him,” Bev said.
Jerry may have been fast, but Bev was smart. She worked in the school office and had the secretary call him to the office. When he walked through the door, Bev slipped a tag around his neck.
“I got him!” she said, grinning.
After that dance they began dating. Rollerskating was their thing.
“We went three times a week,” Bev said. “We still have our skates.”
Jerry’s family owned a lumber yard in Billings and Bev’s family farmed. Their properties were near each other, so Jerry would often saddle a horse and ride over to see his sweetheart after school. The problem was, his father often rode the same horse to work and the horse would try to turn in at Bev’s gate.
By the time they were high school seniors they were engaged, but before graduating in 1952, they decided to take a break from their relationship.
“We wanted to see if we were really in love or just used to going together,” Bev explained.
During their time apart, Jerry moved on.
“I joined the Navy and left Billings,” he said.
His mother intervened and told Bev what he’d done. She also gave her his address and encouraged her to write, which she did.
It didn’t take long before the postman delivered the engagement ring she’d returned during their break-up, and the couple began to make wedding plans via letters and phone calls.
They married on Friday, Feb. 13, 1953.
Jerry contends the day wasn’t unlucky for him at all, and added, “I’ve never missed an anniversary.”
Bev agreed. “He always has flowers delivered to the table of whatever restaurant we’re at that day.”
They were frequently separated during Jerry’s four-year stint in the Navy – often for nine months at a time.
He was there when their daughter Connie arrived in 1954, but had to leave shortly after her birth. He was at sea when his son Butch arrived in 1956, and he didn’t see him until he was three months old.
Daughter Jeri completed their family in 1957.
Jerry truly enjoyed Navy life.
“I loved every minute of every day of it,” he said. “But it’s not a place for a married guy.”
He returned to the family lumber yard in Billings when his four years were up, and the family stayed there until the business was sold in 1969.
For the next 25 years or so, the family moved frequently, including a 14-year stint in Alaska. Jerry pursued a career in operations/logistics – setting up and running cafeterias and sometimes housing, for power plants, the pipleline industry and a community college in Seattle.
They were in Spokane long enough for all three kids to graduate from high school before finally moving here permanently when Jerry retired at 76.
When Jerry worked in Alaska, Bev settled in Eugene, Oregon, to be near their son. Jerry worked four weeks, then came home for two.
“It was probably good for our marriage,” said Bev. “It was like vacations when he came home.”
Indeed, Jerry insisted on doing all of the cooking. He said he had people cooking for him all the time he was gone and Bev didn’t.
“It’s been my job ever since,” he said.
But as the years passed, it grew more difficult for them to be apart.
“It got harder and harder to say goodbye,” Bev said. “We both had tears.”
So, when Jerry took a job in Texas, they bought a motorhome and they’ve been living in it for the past 21 years. Currently, it sits near their grandson’s home on Five Mile.
“We do most everything together,” Bev said.
Family is important to the Grahams. In the midst of their busiest years they always made time to spend with their children and later, their grandchildren.
They usually lived near water, so boating and waterskiing became family traditions.
Making time for the children turned out to be a good investment. In fact, when the kids were still in high school they scrimped and saved their earnings from their part-time jobs and sent Jerry and Bev to Hawaii for their 25th anniversary.
“It was such a surprise!” Bev said.
As their 63rd anniversary approaches, the couple reflected on their years together.
“She’s a sweet lady,” said Jerry, 82.
And after all these years, Bev, 83, hasn’t changed her mind about the boy she first saw on the school bus.
“We fought. We had some rough times,” she said. “But we’ve had a lot of fun together. I wouldn’t change it for anything. He’s given me the best life I could have had.”
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