On a bitterly cold December evening in 1970, Dave Sutton pulled into the parking lot of Pines Baptist Church in Spokane Valley. He was home on leave from the Army and a pastor at the church had invited him to attend a hockey game with the college and career group.
“There was only one car in the parking lot,” he recalled.
He knocked on the window, and Vickie Clifford rolled it down.
“You going to the game?” Dave asked.
“Well, not alone,” he replied. “You can ride with me.”
Dave had his 10-year-old brother with him, so Vickie felt comfortable accepting the ride. They caravanned to the game with others and chatted the entire way there and back to the church.
It turned out they were both University High School graduates, but since Dave was a couple of years older, they’d never met. They had more than high school in common. They’d both recently recommitted themselves to their shared faith, and Vickie’s uncle was the pastor who invited Dave to the game.
“We spent the rest of his two-week leave together,” said Vickie. “We’d meet for coffee when I was done with work and classes at Spokane Falls Community College. We’d talk until 2 in the morning.”
As the end of his leave approached, Dave made up his mind.
“We were smooching in the car, and I said, ‘I think I’ve fallen in love with you, and I think we should get married.’ ”
Though they’d only known each other two weeks, Vickie knew he was sincere in his faith. They’d been praying together.
“I’d prayed for specifically for a godly man,” she recalled. “I knew he was an answer to my prayer.”
In their Spokane Valley home, Dave nodded.
“Our meeting was heaven-sent.”
Vickie’s parents invited him to attend her father’s installment as Worshipful Master in the Masonic Lodge. Vickie, an accomplished seamstress made a blue gown, and Dave rented a tuxedo from a buddy who worked at a tux shop.
“It was iridescent blue,” he recalled.
The couple certainly stood out at the black-tie affair. Her flustered father introduced Dave as her “financier.”
His leave up, Dave flew to Hawaii and left Vickie in charge of wedding plans. They married May 8, 1971, at Pines Baptist.
The wedding was on a Saturday, and Dave had to be back at Camp Smith on Tuesday. He hadn’t told his bride that he’d already missed a couple of ball games and was expected to play Tuesday. Dave played second base for the Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet Headquarters team.
“They met me at the airport with my glove and uniform,” he said. “Vickie never missed a game.”
When asked if she enjoyed baseball, she smiled.
“I grew to like it,” she said.
“I told her there are five necessities in life; food, shelter, clothing, sex and baseball,” he explained. “But I didn’t tell her that until after we were married.”
When his enlistment was complete, the couple returned to Spokane, and Dave graduated from Eastern Washington University with a journalism degree. However, instead of pursuing a career in print, he enrolled in Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“The last thing in the world I wanted to be was a pastor,” he said. “But the Lord called us into ministry,”
They moved to Fort Worth, Texas. Son Josh was born in 1974, followed by daughter Emily in 1975.
After graduating, he accepted a church in St. Louis and the family moved to Missouri. While there, Hannah was born in 1977, and Rachel completed the family in 1979.
Dave developed an affinity for senior ministry, and the fact his hair turned gray when he was 25, might have helped smooth the way, he said.
They briefly returned to Spokane Valley before moving to Lynnwood, Washington, where their children grew up.
“I never ‘pastored’ a big church, and always had to work a second job,” said Dave. “I retired from the pulpit in 1997.”
He drove a school bus, and while living in Lynnwood he became a mortician. In 2000, the couple returned to Spokane Valley. Their parents were aging, and for many years Vickie helped care for her brother who was quadriplegic.
Dave, 72, worked for Hazen and Jaeger Funeral Home for 12 years and was a baseball umpire for 38 years. Vickie, 70, has worked at Holman Gardens Retirement for 21 years.
“I work part time now, but it’s hard to retire,” she said. “The staff has aged in place, and it’s a great place to work.”
Dave volunteers with Horizon Hospice.
“The Biblical word for retirement is funeral,” he said, grinning.
The couple have 15 grandchildren and during the pandemic, Dave wrote a book titled, “The Grandpa’s Manual” which is due to be published by Christian Faith Publishing, next month.
While they celebrated their 50th anniversary in May, they also celebrate on Dec 8, the day they met – often sending a card or flowers to Vickie’s uncle, the pastor who invited Dave to that fortuitous hockey game.
Their journey together hasn’t always been easy.
“We’re very different,” Vickie said. “He’s outgoing and social. I’m quiet. We parented differently because we were raised differently. He likes to travel. I like to stay home.”
However, they both enjoy traveling to Phoenix for the Mariners’ spring training. But when they drove down in 2019, they got lost.
“This is an adventure!” said Dave.
Vickie didn’t agree.
“So we got to talk about what constitutes an adventure,” he said.
Their faith remains the bedrock of their relationship, and Vickie admires Dave’s commitment to their faith.
“He stays close to the Lord,” she said. “He doesn’t hold a grudge and he accepts me for who I am.”
Dave appreciates her kindness and willingness to help others.
“She has such a sweet heart,” he said.
Deciding to marry two weeks after meeting has had an unexpected benefit.
“We’re still getting to know each other after 50 years,” said Dave.
Correspondent Cindy Hval can be reached at email@example.com.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.