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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Love story: Laura and John Stuart look back on many highlights in 70 years of marriage

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

Sometimes passing notes in school gets you in trouble, but for John Stuart, it got him a wife.

The 23-year-old had served in the Army Air Corps at the end of World War II and was driving a logging truck for his father when in 1950 he decided to attend Kinman Business University.

John sat next to Laura Mitchell, 18, during a public speaking class, but he had his eye on a girl farther down the row.

“He asked me to pass a note to her,” Laura recalled. “He passed notes to lots of girls.”

When asked if she knew what the notes said, she smiled.

“No, but I can guess.”

It didn’t take long for John to ask the girl who’d helped him pass those notes for a date.

“Kinman provided dances for the students on Saturdays,” Laura said. “Our first date was to one of those dances, and we went to several of those together. We’d also meet with a group of friends in study hall.”

Soon, the couple were shopping for wedding rings at Dodson’s Jewelers.

“I don’t remember any proposal,” John said. “We just talked about it and decided it was the thing to do.”

On May 25, 1951, they married at Fourth Presbyterian (now Fourth Memorial) church.

“We drove Highway 101 along the Oregon coast to San Francisco for our honeymoon,” recalled John. “It was a beautiful trip.”

That Labor Day weekend, they joined some friends in Grangeville, Idaho.

“I was target shooting with a .22 rifle when it misfired and threw shrapnel in my eye,” John said. “I lost my right eye.”

He continued driving trucks until he put those Kinman classes to work and took a job as a bookkeeper for Washington Water Power Co. (now Avista).

Meanwhile, Laura worked as a secretary for an electric wholesale supply company. They saved their money and purchased their first house in north Spokane in 1955.

In 1956, their son David arrived, followed by Robert in 1957.

Son, Gary, arrived in 1959, and the family settled in Pacific Heights, a brand new neighborhood in northwest Spokane. They lived there for 48 years. John used his woodworking skills to make furniture for their home, and Laura painted artwork to hang on the walls.

She continued to use her secretarial skills at area offices, and when their three sons were in school, she got a job with Spokane Public Schools.

At WWP, John had moved into general accounting and was there when punch cards gave way to computers.

“I took a few classes at SCC and eventually became a technician,” he said.

By the time he retired he’d spent more than three decades at WWP.

When their boys were young, the family filled their summers with camping trips, often to the Oregon coast.

“We started out tent-camping, but bought a trailer because sleeping bags and sand don’t mix,” said Laura.

In 1974, during Expo, they hosted an exchange student from London. That experience opened the door to worldwide travel and adventure.

“We went to visit his family in ’77 or ’78,” John said. “We stayed for a month.”

For many years the families exchanged monthlong visits. The Stuarts explored Paris, Amsterdam and Scotland, where John delved into his Scottish roots.

Back in Spokane, the couple became members of the St. Andrew’s Society and joined the Scottish dancers.

Soon, they were dancing across the globe. From Australia to New Zealand to Japan and Ecuador.

John chuckled.

“There are two ways to travel; you can wait until you retire and have the money or you can just go. We went on the go now, pay later philosophy.”

In the Andean highlands of Ecuador, their bus stopped at 14,000 feet. The dancers piled out and performed at a deserted train station.

“We danced for llamas and their herders,” Laura said. “It was the highest performance by Scottish dancers until a short time later, when a group went to Pike’s Peak in Colorado, to top our record.”

They also traveled stateside.

“For 20 years we ran the Clan Stuart booth at Highland Games throughout the Northwest,” said John. “We went to five Games a year.”

Health issues ultimately curtailed their dancing in 2002, and in 2007 they moved to Riverview Retirement Community. Both are legally blind.

“With our poor vision, we could be grumpy, but we’ve chosen not to be,” said John, 90.

Seventy years of marriage has given them insight into what makes a marriage work – and it isn’t avoiding confrontation. They scoff when they hear other couples say they never argue.

“Baloney,” John said. “It’s not always going to be perfect.”

Laura, 89, nodded.

“You have to work things out. Sometimes we have good arguments that clear the air.”

She appreciates her husband’s still-sharp memory.

“He remembers streets we lived on, towns we’ve been to.”

John took her hand.

“She’s a very loving individual,” he said, smiling. “And she’s put up with me for all these years.”

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Correspondent Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com.

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