Matchmaking mothers led to 75 years of wedded bliss for Bette and John Neff, despite John’s initial reluctance.
After graduating from North Central High School in 1942, John Neff attended the University of Idaho for a year, before joining the army.
“I was an M.P.,” he recalled. “They sent me to India for three years.”
While he was away, his parents befriended the Jacob family who had moved to Spokane from Montana. John’s mother was delighted to learn it had three single daughters and promptly wrote to her son in India.
“Hurry home!” she wrote. “A family moved here with three daughters.”
John’s reply wasn’t all she hoped.
“Don’t make any plans for me,” he said. “I’m going to play the field.”
He returned to Spokane in January 1946 and began working with his father at the family grocery store on Dean Avenue.
One Saturday, Bette’s mother called in a delivery order to the story. When the doorbell rang she told Bette that Ray (John’s father) was at the door with their groceries. Turns out both moms were in on the matchmaking.
Bette answered the door and suddenly John’s plans for playing the field evaporated. He promptly asked her for a date.
From their North Side apartment, he grinned.
“I fell in love, I guess,” he said.
He invited Bette to go see Bob Hope at the Gonzaga stadium, but on the night of the show, she had a headache.
“So, I went with her sister and her friend,” John said.
But when he brought her sister home, Bette had a surprise for him.
“She’d baked a banana cream pie,” he said. “It was perfect.”
“He really fell in love with my banana cream pie,” she said.
John proposed at Commellini’s Restaurant, and they married July 26, 1946, just six months after meeting.
“Why wait when you know it’s right?” asked Bette.
She still has the receipt from their wedding night at the downtown Hotel Spokane. John paid $3.75 for the room. He got a better deal when he took her to Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada, for their honeymoon. That room cost $3.50 a night, and yes, they have that receipt, too.
When they returned home, John bought into his father’s grocery business, and Bette continued working at the phone company.
As their first Christmas neared, she pondered what to get her new husband.
“I saw an ad for a lifetime subscription to Readers Digest for $25, or a lifetime subscription to National Geographic for $50,” she recalled. “I didn’t have $50, so I got the Readers Digest.”
Seventy-five years later, they’re still enjoying that $25 investment when the latest copy of Readers Digest arrives at their home.
John began working at Kline’s Grocery on North Division Street when his father decided to retire and sell the family store.
“I bought the grocery department at Kline’s and ran it for several years,” he said.
In 1949, they welcomed a son, David, followed by twins Nadine and Nancy in 1951. The girls are fraternal twins.
“Nadine is 5-foot-11 and Nancy is 5-foot-4,” said Bette, grinning. “We could always tell them apart.”
An avid woodworker, John built their first home on Nebraska Avenue. He later built a log home on six acres in Chattaroy.
After selling the grocery portion of Kline’s, he went to work for Safeway and later retired from Albertsons.
That’s when their new adventure began. They moved to Sun Lakes, Arizona, where they lived for 33 years before returning to Spokane in March.
They thrived in their retirement community and especially loved the church that their community banded together to build.
“We got the church built and got a pastor, but we couldn’t afford a janitor,” Bette said. “So we went to church on Sunday and cleaned it on Monday.”
The church has since grown in size and scope, and the Neffs still attend services each week via Zoom.
Though sad to leave Arizona, John said, “Our age told us it was time to make plans to return.”
He’s 98, Bette 96. Their son David died of cancer three years ago, but both of their daughters are in the area.
For many years the couple had enjoyed square dancing and when they settled into Fairwood Retirement Village, a familiar face greeted them.
“One of the first people we met was a friend from square dance,” said Bette.
The move hasn’t been easy, but their nightly prayers are filled with gratitude.
“Every night we’re grateful,” Bette said. “We do a lot of thanking.”
John believes more than just their mothers had a hand in their union.
“I’ve always said the Lord had a plan for us and brought us together,” he said.
And Bette has never regretted answering the door for that grocery delivery 75 years ago.
“When I can’t remember things, he fills in my gaps,” she said. “He’s everything to me.”
Correspondent Cindy Hval can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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