Archive for Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Shouts and murmurs: Laughter key to lasting marriage

January 25, 2006

Last month, Dorothy Stewart called The Mirror to comment on an item Billie Aye's "Remember When" column's 75-years-ago section.

Here's the antique news tidbit:

"Mr. and Mrs. Fred Papenhausen approach one of their great days, their golden wedding anniversary, which will be celebrated on Dec. 15, 1930. Fifty is quite a span of years to live in one town and with one wife. No better people live than Mr. and Mrs. Fred Papenhausen."

It turns out the Papenhausens were Stewart's grandparents.

And, Stewart noted, longevity of marriage tends to run in her -- and in her husband's -- families.

For example, Thursday will mark 60 years since she and her husband, George W. "Bill" Stewart, were married.

"They've been happy years," Dorothy Stewart said, smiling.

The two met during the summer of 1940.

"I was 13 and a half years old," Stewart said.

She was visiting at the Reno-area home of her aunt and uncle, Eva and Othal Wiley.

"The neighbor's calf got out," Stewart said. "Bill was working for them, and he tracked it through the dew over to my uncle's house and I met him."

She wanted to make a good impression on the 17-year-old boy who stole her heart that day.

Stewart leaned forward and smiled, then said, in a hushed tone of voice: "I told him I was 14 because that was more sophisticated than 13 years."

She knew he was someone special.

"I liked him right off the bat," Stewart said. "I told the neighbor where he was working that I was going to marry him."

Though Stewart wasn't allowed to date until she was 16, she and Bill became better acquainted by writing letters.

Finally, she was old enough to go out.

"Oh dear," Stewart said when asked the date of their first official outing. With a tilt of her head, she smiled and, after only a moment's thought, said it was during the summer of 1942.

"We went to an ice cream social at the Friends Church in Tonganoxie with two other couples," Stewart said.

The couple has three grown children. Bill Stewart and Mike Stewart live in Olathe. Patti Stewart lives in Topeka.

Stewart, who says laughter is a big part of their life, said the couple jokes about what's helped them have a long and happy marriage.

"Bill says it's because he always gets the last word in," Stewart said, smiling. "It's 'yes, dear.'"

Stewart said both she and her husband's parents had long marriages. Her parents, Charles and Ella Papenhausen, were six weeks from celebrating their 50th anniversary when her father died. Bill's parents, Fred and Clara Lee Stewart, were married 56 years.

She has two sisters and a brother who have been married more than 50 years. Bill's sister has been married 52 years.

When Bill and Dorothy married, he only had been home from overseas military duty for 26 days. He served three years in the U.S. Army during World War II, 27 of those months in the South Pacific.

In 1978, the couple decided to get together with other men from the 746 AAA Gun Battalion in which Stewart served.

"We started with five men, it was a mini-reunion at our house," Dorothy Stewart said.

They decided to include others in future reunions -- if they could contact them.

"One of the fellas gave us the names and addresses that were 33 years old, of the men that were in their group," Stewart said. "I used those addresses and corresponded with those men and at the first reunion we had 52 men."

The group grew and in its heyday as many as 200 former soldiers and their wives attended.

"We have located 980 men out of the battalion," Stewart said. "There were about 1,050 in it. So I've got about 75 to 100 that I've not been able to locate and probably never will -- many of them are deceased."

Stewart said she has enjoyed planning the reunions.

"It's been interesting and a wonderful experience to try to get these men together -- and the stories they tell and the feeling of brotherhood that exists among these men who served and experienced common experiences," Stewart said. "It's just fantastic."

It's projects like that that have enriched their marriage.

"It has been a big part of our lives the last 28 years," Stewart said.

And, she said, there's another secret to their success.

There's love and laughter, Stewart said.

She paused, smiled and added, "And humor -- lots of humor."

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