Today it is 65 years since Les and I married. Our church magazine had asked me to write the story of our lives and I'm sharing that with you today. It's longer than I like my blogs to be, but, hey, it's our anniversary! And it is 65 years.
It was one of those weird butterfly effects. What if Les’ grandparents had not migrated from Norway? What if his oldest brother, Magnar, had not left North Dakota, run out of money in Colorado, met and married a nice Mennonite girl? What if his next brother, Harold, had not visited Magnar, met yet another nice Mennonite girl and married her? And what if Les had not visited Harold and Doris??
Lester Sigvald Hjelmstad came into the world on a farm near Ryder, North Dakota, some ninety-one years ago, the seventh of eleven living children born to John and Mary. The Lutheran Church baptized him when he was six weeks old. He attended a country school across the road from the Hjelmstad homestead until he was fourteen. At Ryder High School he became BMOC (Big Man on Campus), lettered in four years of football, and captained the team. He also lettered in basketball three years and went out for track. He presided over his senior class. After high school, he worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps for eighteen months and then helped his father and neighbors with farm work until he went into the U.S. Navy whereupon—as he always told his children—he single-handedly won WWII.
Meanwhile, when Les was eight years old, Lois Luene Tschetter was born in Webster, South Dakota, the first child of Paul G. Tschetter and Bertha Nikkel Tschetter, both of Mennonite heritage.
Lois lived in Webster, attending the Methodist Church, until she was twelve when she moved with her family to the Black Hills of South Dakota.
In 1944 the family moved to Denver and joined First Mennonite Church in 1945. Lois attended South High School, where she was IGOCWOAT (Invisible-Girl-on-Campus, Wallflower of All Time). She graduated valedictorian of her class of 721, but no one noticed.
Les and Lois met at FMC in November 1946. Six months later Les took her home after a social gathering. And that was that.
They became engaged in four months and married eleven months afterward. Lois was still seventeen. Les joined FMC on February 1, 1948.
At first Les and Lois lived and worked for $150 a month on a chicken ranch in Lakewood,Colorado. They were offered that ranch for $13,000, but there was no way to come up with the $1300 down payment. Now several businesses and a famous restaurant grace those thirteen acres. Oh, well…
After two years of watching the dang chickens smother themselves just as they were ready to market, Les went to work at Gates Rubber Company in Denver, first as a tire builder and then as a supervisor. He ended up working there for thirty-seven years, twenty-six of those on graveyard shift. Meanwhile, Lois worked at National Hartford Insurance Company for three years until Karen was born.
Bob, Keith, and Russ followed. When the kids were seven, five, three, and one, Les and Lois moved into their current home in Englewood, where they have lived more than fifty-four years. They are not ones to make quick changes.
Their lives have been centered in church, where Les was an elder and served on Council for fourteen years. One summer he took his only two-week vacation and taught Vacation Bible School. Lois taught VBS and was Sunday School superintendent. She also served as church organist for seventeen years. For at least thirty-nine years they attended every service, until they realized the walls wouldn’t crumble if they weren’t there.
Les and Lois credit their faith for cementing their shared values: intending to follow the teachings of Jesus in service and daily life, living simply in a harried world, supporting issues of peace and justice, and giving at least ten percent of their gross income to causes beyond themselves.
In 1961 Lois began teaching piano to Bob because she and Karen were already taking lessons and the family couldn’t afford to pay for his. Soon neighborhood kids joined in. As her music studio built to sixty plus students a week, Lois participated in a number of college pedagogy courses. This accidental career hummed along, in one fashion or another, for forty years.
The real children grew up and established careers and families. The piano kids kept coming; Lois planned to teach until she was ninety-six. Les retired at sixty-five, returned to college, and studied his main interest – history, especially Civil War history. He earned a degree, shaved his mustache, and got a job. No, wait….
In 1990, a year after being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, Lois' breast cancer diagnosis jolted her into writing. She and Les formed an independent publishing company and Fine Black Lines: Reflections on Facing Cancer, Fear and Loneliness was first published in 1993.
A niece invited her to speak at Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix and that launched another accidental career. Lois has spoken more than 600 times in all fifty United States, England, and Canada. Les has driven 400,000 miles in the process. Lois still gives talks locally.
In 2002, Lois finished The Last Violet: Mourning My Mother, Moving Beyond Regret. A tenth anniversary edition of Fine Black Lines came out in 2003.
For their 50th wedding anniversary, Les gave Lois two diamond anniversary bands. She gave him thirty-six poems and promised to write a book for him. Fair exchange?! It took twelve years, but in 2010, This Path We Share: Reflections on 60 Years of Marriage was released. All three books will soon be eBooks.
Lots of serendipity, lots of butterfly effect, lots of luck.
On September 12, 2013, Les and Lois celebrated their 65th anniversary. And how does one remain married for sixty-five years? Simple: fall head over heels, live long, and stay crazy-in-love.
We are exceedingly thankful for our longevity, these many years together, our beloved children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, extended families, friends, and church family. You have supported us during these years in one way or another and become a strand in the fabric of our lives. We have been undeservedly fortunate beyond our wildest hopes and we take this occasion to give thanks for our multitude of blessings—and for each of you.
As for the future? We continue our walk toward the Light. With love, Les and Lois