Love Stories: Adventurous spirit bookends union of 60 years
Wed., Aug. 31, 2016
It was 1953 in tiny Nichols, Iowa, and there wasn’t a lot to do. So Jim Porter and a buddy drove to the big – well, bigger – city of Muscatine to attend a dance.
“My mother asked where I was going, so I told her,” recalled Jim. “She said, ‘You be careful! There’s a streetlight in that town!’ ”
He laughed. “There were no streetlights in Nichols and all the good-looking girls were taken.”
At the dance, he spotted a pretty girl and worked up the nerve to ask her to dance. Her name was Geraldine, and he quickly asked her to go to a movie that weekend.
Tall and handsome, Jim stood out in the crowd. Another girl came up to Geri and asked her to introduce her to him.
“Oh, I’ve already got a date with him,” Geri replied.
Jim still remembers that date. “We saw ‘High Noon.’ ”
They dated sporadically, but Geri was still in high school and Jim joined the Air Force.
“We knew we were going to be drafted, so a friend and I signed up for the Navy, but there was a waiting list,” he explained. “The Air Force recruiter across the hall grabbed me.”
Four days later, he left for basic training.
He and Geri kept in touch by mail, but she wasn’t sitting around pining for him. She had an active social life.
“I wasn’t going to stay home,” she said.
However, when Jim got stationed in Chanute, Illinois, it was close enough for him to hitchhike home when he had leave.
“I made time for him whenever he came home,” Geri said. “He often brought soldiers home and I’d set them up on dates.”
Jim had known since that dance that Geri was the one for him. In fact, they discussed marriage while she was a senior in high school. But he was patient.
She graduated in 1955, and when he came home that Christmas he brought an engagement ring.
They married on May 20, 1956. Geri made her satin wedding gown and trimmed it with Chantilly lace.
Jim decided to make a career out of the military, and for the pair of Midwesterners who’d never left Iowa, the Air Force provided plenty of adventures.
“I like to travel,” Geri said. “I liked the Air Force way of life.”
One thing worried her husband. “I hope we don’t get separated too often,” he said.
From their Spokane Valley home, Jim grinned. “In 20 years we were never apart more than 90 days.”
Daughter Kaylynn arrived when they were stationed in New Jersey, and soon the small family was sent to Germany, where they stayed three years.
They saw much of Europe while stationed there. A son, Douglas, was born in 1959, and the family would load up their 1953 Chevy, put a folding table and chairs on the roof and camp their way through Germany and Italy, among other destinations.
But by far their favorite assignment was Anchorage, Alaska, where they lived for five years.
“We loved Alaska,” said Jim. “It was a good family place to be.”
Son Ronald completed their family in 1965, and the plentiful outdoor opportunities were perfect for the active family.
“We all love fishing,” Geri said. “And we all learned to ski – the boys were downhill racers.”
When Jim retired from the Air Force in 1973, they were stationed in New Mexico and thought they’d return to Alaska to finish raising their kids.
He shrugged. “We stopped in Spokane for Expo ’74 and ended up staying here.”
Geri had attended beauty school back in New Jersey, so once they settled here, she took some courses and brushed up on her skills. For many years she worked in the beauty salon of The Crescent at University City.
Jim worked as a custodian for the East Valley School District, and one day the superintendent approached him and asked him why he wasn’t using the GI Bill to continue his education.
“I said I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Jim recalled.
The superintendent told him about the carpentry program at Spokane Community College. That appealed to Jim, so he went to school and earned a degree in carpentry. For the next 23 years he was a carpenter for the East Valley School District.
“It was one of the best jobs I ever had,” he said.
He also started a part-time custom woodworking business.
“I helped out,” said Geri. “I’d go out and hold stuff for him.”
And that dream of returning to Alaska? After they both retired, they bought some property in Soldotna on the Kenai Peninsula. Every summer they go and fish to their hearts’ content.
In fact, they just bought a new camper.
“Isn’t that something?” Geri asked, laughing. “We’re in our 80s and bought a new camper!”
The two also have plans for a trip to Germany this fall.
“We never thought we’d see the world,” Geri marveled.
They say their shared interests have made married life fun.
“We used to dance a lot. He was never a good dancer, but we got out there and danced anyway.”
And time has helped smooth disagreements along the way.
“He can’t hear me when I argue with him, so that helps,” said Geri.
“But he’s been wonderful. I couldn’t have found anyone better.”
Jim offered this advice: “Treat your marriage like a fixer-upper. There’s always something you can improve on.”
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