When Dennis Haugen brought his Oldsmobile over to work on it with Marilyn Bowen’s brother, she really wanted to be out there with them.
“I would’ve rather been in the garage, but my mom wanted me to be a lady,” recalled Marilyn. “It was too late. I was already a tomboy.”
So, she casually wandered out to where the boys were working, and her brother introduced her to Dennis.
“Two days later he took me to a carhop drive-in and bought me a Coke,” she said.
The rest is their history.
“I thought she was very attractive,” Dennis said. “I liked her beauty.”
Sixteen-year-old Marilyn was equally enthralled.
“It was his eyes,” she said. “Sitting there in that parking lot, I fell in love with his eyes. They were the most gorgeous thing I’d ever seen.”
In the dining room of their Northeast Spokane home, she smiled at Dennis.
“They still are.”
He soon gave her his class ring and on Christmas Day, 1959, they became engaged.
“My parents thought we were too young,” Said Marilyn.
But the young lovers persisted and on Nov. 27, 1960, Marilyn, 18, and Dennis, 20, married. Marilyn wore the satin gown her mother had sewn for her sister.
When asked if they had a honeymoon, Dennis laughed.
“Well, we tried,” he said.
The Denver natives had reservations at a fancy Colorado Springs hotel, but Mother Nature put an end to those plans.
“The day we married was the heaviest snowstorm in Denver’s history,” explained Dennis. “They closed the road, so we pulled over and found a motel in Castle Rock. The next morning we went to my parent’s house for breakfast.”
Dennis had already enlisted in the Navy, and the couple were sent to Coronado, California. They had four months together before he was deployed to the Philippines for an 18-month tour of duty.
Marilyn returned to Denver and took a job with the phone company, but when they found out she was expecting, she was fired.
Their son, Scott, arrived in September 1961. Thirteen long months would pass before Dennis got to meet him.
“It took two full weeks for the Red Cross to let me know I had a son,” he recalled. “It was a long, lonely time for both of us.”
To keep connected they recorded reel-to-reel audio tapes and sent them back and forth across the ocean.
In 1962, the Navy sent the family to Kodiak, Alaska, where they enjoyed salmon fishing and camping.
“I was so glad to go with him,” Marilyn said.
The following year they were sent to San Diego where Dennis was assigned to a ship, and there they welcomed their second son, Vincent.
When Dennis left the Navy in 1964, they returned to Denver. That’s where he heard the Army was accepting people without college degrees for helicopter pilot training.
“I’d always wanted to fly,” he said, so he signed up immediately.
While stationed at Fort Wolters, Texas, for Warrant Officer Flight School, their daughter Kristy completed the family in 1965.
In June 1966, Dennis was ordered to Vietnam for a one-year tour of duty with an assault helicopter company. Marilyn and the children stayed with her sister on a farm in northern Missouri.
After six months, Dennis got a week of leave, so he flew to Hawaii. Marilyn left the children with her sister and joined him.
“I got terribly sunburned in my bikini, but we had so much fun,” she said.
Just like when he was in the Philippines, the couple mailed each author audio tapes – this time cassettes.
In 1967, Dennis returned to Fort Wolters, as an instructor pilot to train new pilots for the war in Vietnam, The family enjoyed two years together in a rural setting with lots of hunting, fishing and camping opportunities.
By 1969, he was assigned a second tour of duty in Vietnam, and Marilyn returned to Denver to await his return.
“It was just a sad time when he was gone,” said Marilyn. “It was hard waiting and waiting for him to come home.”
He finished the last part of his tour of duty with some close calls, but he made it home in time for Christmas 1970.
Over the next few years the family moved from Virginia, to Florida to Alaska, as Dennis earned a college degree and received promotions.
Once in Alaska, they bought a half-acre lot in the town of North Pole, and Dennis seized the chance to fulfill a lifelong dream – building a log cabin.
But in 1973, before the cabin was completed, he was notified by the Army that due to a reduction in force, his service was no longer needed.
“We decided to stay and finish the house and let the kids graduate from school,” he said.
They ended up staying in North Pole for 23 years.
Dennis worked as a commercial helicopter pilot for the first two years, and then he worked in management and as a technician for the Trans Alaska Crude Oil Pipeline from 1975 to 2014.
The couple added cross country skiing and square dancing to their list of hobbies. Marilyn kept busy with a huge garden, canning and sewing, and she taught herself to paint.
However, she grew tired of the cold.
“The kids were gone. It was boring. It was cold. It was dark,” she said. “I didn’t want to die in Alaska. I was ready for something new.”
After two driving trips around the Pacific Northwest, they decided Spokane was the place for them, making the move in 1996.
“It took us a while to settle into the warmer more refined routine of Spokane,” said Dennis.
But settle they did. He continued to work on the pipeline in the summer, two weeks on and two weeks off, until 2014.
Until COVID-19 hit they enjoyed their garden club, square dancing group and Bunco group.
“We’re goers and doers,” Marilyn, 78, said.
When asked what it takes to sustain a 60-year union, she said, “You have to be part of each other and back each other up.”
Dennis, 80, said it’s important to not hold a grudge.
“You can’t change history, so don’t keep it. Let it go.”
Then he grinned and confided, “We really didn’t know what we were doing when we got married.”
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