MONTESANO, Wash. — Eighty-two years ago, Russ and Louise Simmelink met at an old farmhouse on Rose Hill in Springdale, Washington.
Russ was 4 years old; Louise 6. [See photos of Russ & Louise over the years.]
Russ was visiting Louise’s parents’ farm, playing with her sisters. His mother was part of a women’s club hosted at the farm.
One of Louise’s younger sisters had her heart playfully set on spanking Russ. Louise got home from school and saved him. “Russ was very grateful,” daughter Janet said, “and tells that story to this day.”
On cold mornings, Louise and her sisters rode horses up a hill to their one-room schoolhouse. They’d take the bridles off their horses’ thick necks and send them home alone.
Russ was very shy and the youngest child of his family. They knew each other throughout the years but didn’t grow close until they were in their teens.
In high school, Louise didn’t date boys -- because of her remote home as well as an older brother’s protective eye.
At their houses, nearly everything was rationed: sugar, food, shoes, gas. World War II was tearing through countries abroad and sweeping men out of the United States.
“Nearly every boy who was old enough went to war, including Louise’s older brother, Joe,” Janet said.
Then in 1945, Joe was killed on Iwo Jima. The year that followed was quiet.
Louise had just graduated from high school, briefly attended college and returned to help her father on the farm. Russ and Louise’s portraits still hang on a wall that hosts the graduates of small Springdale High School.
When Russ was 16 and Louise 18, they started seeing more of each other. Soon, Russ was visiting the farm again, so many years after they met there as children.
In the winter of 1946, love grew in them.
“Russ thought Louise was very special,” Janet said. “She was beautiful, for one thing, and she was still very kind.”
They decided to marry that spring. Russ drove to Spokane and bought Louise a little gold ring with orange blossoms engraved all around it.
He was embarrassed of the cost, $12, but Louise loved it. Years later, in 1951, she was given a new ring. She welded the two together.
Russ and Louise married on a Monday: May 20, 1946. Louise wore a fuchsia skirt and jacket, white shoes and a white pillbox hat. Russ wore a blue serge suit.
They were married by a justice of the peace in Idaho, where there was no waiting period.
They first lived together in a tiny, two-room apartment. A bathroom, shared by other tenants, was a short walk down the hallway. Louise traveled with suitcases by public bus to her in-laws' house to do laundry.
The two worked various jobs over the years. They worked together for a while in Chelan at an apple warehouse. Louise sorted the apples and Russ loaded trucks. One of Russ’s favorite jobs was working as a milkman in Yakima.
"In some homes, he'd walk into the kitchen and put the bottles of milk in the refrigerator," Janet said. "Russ and Louise didn't have much money, but they did have all the milk and cottage cheese they wanted."
Their first daughter, Sharon was born in Yakima in 1950.
They moved to Montesano where they lived in a small cabin with a shower outside. They both remember how cold showers outside were in the winter.
In 1955, they moved into a big house with 3.5 acres covered in blackberry bushes and bramble.
The home was quite empty when they first moved in, but “over the years, they filled it,” said Janet. Janet was born in 1955, twins Jean and Joan in 1957 and Lisa in 1962.
While pregnant with her fifth child, Louise spent much time in bed. She knew how to play the mandolin and taught Russ to play the guitar.
Today, at 87 and 89 years old, Russ and Louise still play music together and live in their big home on the edge of Montesano. [Watch them playing music together.]
Russ mows the acres of grass and Louise cares for abundant flowers. Their home is surrounded by alder trees and cottonwoods.
They have 12 grandchildren now and eight great-grandchildren.
This May 20 will mark their 70-year anniversary. "When pressed, they may tell you that marriage only lasts this long with perseverance, stubbornness, endurance and love," Janet said. "And their faith in God, they both agree, has a lot to do with it."
Louise still wears her original wedding ring, welded to the one she was given in 1951.
The orange blossoms, subject to time in a way their love has eluded, have completely worn away.
Cox Media Group