Sweethearts for life

3 local couples share tips for making love last.Lessons worth noting on Valentine’s Day.

What’s the secret to a long-lived, joyful marriage? Surprise your sweetheart with these insights from three Miami Valley couples who’ve lived their vows for a total 198 years.

Make it good

Lester and Frieda Howard of Dayton met in February 1943 in Hazard, Ky., when they were both 18.

“I was sitting on Grandma’s porch,” Lester recalled, “and (Frieda) was carrying water from the well about four or five blocks to her house. (Grandma) says, ‘Les, go down there and see if she’ll let you help carry the water home.’ About three months later, we were married.”

The Howards had a challenging time at first, with Lester moving to Dayton for work and struggling to find landlords who would rent to a family with young children. “We had a pretty tough time for a few years,” he said. What helped? “We played cards a lot!”

Cards weren’t the only trick up the Howards’ sleeves. A strong circle of friends and an ever stronger commitment to family led to a good life together, Frieda said.

“He never did drink, never run around. Never did smoke,” she said. “We cooperated and did things that were best for the family.”

Frieda’s advice to younger couples? “Don’t get up and leave when something hard happens — stay together and work things out,” she said. “Life’s what you make of it. You can make it good.”

Watch those stockings

Luther “Bud” and Nancy Brede of Springfield were married in August 1951, a few months after Nancy was preparing for a song-and-dance children’s fundraiser in Newark, Ohio.

“We were practicing over a bar,” she said, “and a young fellow came in and said, ‘I’m new in town, I was seeing what was here.’ They said, ‘Do you sing? Do you dance?’ He said, ‘Wellllll …’ They said, ‘Join us anyway!’ So he went upstairs and ended up being my partner, and it went on from there.”

And on, and on. Why?

“Mutual admiration,” Bud said. “She’s a wonderful person.”

And when the storms came? “We had a stillborn daughter,” he said, then paused a moment. “You hold hands, and you go forth.”

Nancy agreed. “You don’t give up. You just keep on going.”

Their advice for younger couples includes being open about pocketbooks, having lots of conversations, keeping things fresh and being willing to share and understand and give more than you take.

“It’s give and take, 60-40, both sides,” Nancy said.

“And watch out for your dirty stockings,” Bud said of the couple’s one and only fight. “It’s the minor stuff that kills you. The major stuff, you’ll hold hands and go forth.”

‘He still sings’

For Raymond and Eleanor Gully of Middletown, Valentine’s Day isn’t just a holiday to celebrate love. It’s the anniversary of their 1947 wedding in Niagara Falls.

The two met in their early teens at a Salvation Army church young people’s program. They married when Eleanor was 19 and Raymond, an engineering draftsman and musician, was 21.

“He’s a good fella,” Eleanor said. “He helped me raise the kids. He was a good father.”

When the four children were still young, the family embarked on a life as Salvation Army ministers. They served a long series of communities in Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio. Eleanor said prayer kept the family strong through the frequent moves, and “all the kids turned out good.”

The couple live today at Hawthorn Glen nursing home, where Raymond has round-the-clock care for his Alzheimer’s.

Remembering their engagement, Eleanor’s voice is strong and clear. “He made me laugh. He’s still that way. He sings to me — yes, he does. Every night, he still sings to me, the same old songs.”