They met in the second grade at McKinley School and never looked back.
A series of black-and-white class photos shows Roger Clark grinning in the front row, while Norma Hill smiles demurely from the second.
From their Mead home, the couple recounted their courtship.
She had four brothers, and he had three. The kids roamed their East Central Neighborhood, often playing football in the schoolyard.
“It was a rough neighborhood,” said Roger. “You had to be a runner or a fighter. I was a runner. My older brother was a fighter.”
When he wasn’t running, he was with Norma, and even attending different high schools didn’t put a damper on their romance.
She went to Lewis and Clark High School with the neighbor kids, but Roger’s mother sent him to North Central.
“We rode the city bus together,” he recalled. “I’d walk her up to the doors at LC, then hop back on the bus and go on to NC. After school, we’d meet at Riverside and Howard and take the bus back home.”
Norma said she never considered dating anyone else.
“Being raised with four boys, you kinda know what boys are like,” she said. “His mother was my idol. She would sit and visit with my friend and me on the back steps. I thought he can’t be bad if he has a mother like that.”
Roger has a different take on his attractiveness.
“I was easy to manage.”
They’d often walk from their houses (just a block apart) to the Orpheum Theatre downtown to see a movie.
“They were cheap dates,” Norma said. “Seventy-five cents.”
Roger worked on his uncle’s farm every summer and at 16, had saved enough to buy a car, a 1937 Chevy.
There was never any doubt that they would marry.
“I got an engagement ring for Christmas my senior year,” said Norma.
Two months after graduating from high school, they married on Aug. 1, 1953. Both were just 18.
“I married an older woman and never have been let loose of that,” said Roger, grinning.
Norma is four months his senior.
Roger worked for Northern Pacific Railroad, before embarking on a lifelong career in the sheet metal industry, while Norma worked at Newberry’s, making the store’s display signs.
There was no time for a honeymoon. They married on Saturday, went to church on Sunday and were back to work on Monday.
Their son, Byron, arrived in September 1954, and six months later the couple bought their first house.
When their car was wrecked, Norma was working at the Armour meat packing plant, and Roger at a sheet metal shop.
“So, we walked,” she said. “I carried the diaper bag, winter clothes and Roger’s lunch, and he carried Byron. We separated at the railroad tracks. He took Byron to his mom’s.”
Daughter Robyn followed in 1957, and son Tim was born in 1958.
Sadly, he died of meningitis at 4 1/2 months.
“It was tough,” Norma said. “But the Lord sustained us.”
The birth of daughter Janet in 1960 brought comfort to the young couple.
In 1965, the Clarks bought 33 acres in Chattaroy, where they lived for 40 years.
“We had cows, horses, chickens, rabbits,” Norma said.
For many years she operated an adult family home out of their house. When the firestorm of 1991 swept through the Chattaroy area, Norma and the disabled residents in her care were evacuated to an elementary school gym, while Roger talked his way past the firefighters battling the blaze.
Their home was spared.
Roger retired that year, and seven years later, Norma closed the adult family home, and then they hit the road.
“We love to travel,” she said.
More than making up for their lack of a honeymoon, they visited Yellowstone and Glacier national parks and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. They took 13 cruises and spent time in Hawaii, but their favorite trips were the ones where they’d just hop in the car and drive. Montana was a frequent destination.
“I like history, and we both enjoy museums,” Norma said.
Roger never questioned if he’d married the right girl.
“I just figured we’d have a good time, and I was pretty much right,” he said. “Sometimes we do a good job, sometimes we don’t, but you don’t let the bad times split you up.”
The couple have a dozen grandchildren, several great-grandchildren, and even some great-great-grandchildren.
“That’s what happens when you get married young,” said Roger.
Last summer, Roger, 84, faced a series of health challenges.
“It’s just like our wedding vows,” said Norma, 84. “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…. We’ve done it all.”
Then she looked at Roger.
“When he was in the hospital, I kept remembering ‘Always,’ the song that was played at our wedding. I tried to sing it to him.”
It’s been more than six decades since their wedding day, but the words still ring true.
She cleared her throat, then hummed, then sang, “I’ll be loving you always. With a love that’s true always.”
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