What does it take for a marriage to last 80 years?
LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — This could be the perfect love story.
They met at a dance in Abbeville some 80 years ago. They were just teenagers. She came with her father; he came with a cousin.
That’s how it began for Duson couple Wallace and Gladys Menard. The meeting that night led to an 80-year love affair that has survived against the odds.
Shortly after the dance hall introduction, the two started dating. Wallace was so smitten with Gladys that he rode his bike the 40 miles from Lafayette to Abbeville, every Saturday night, just to see her. When they married on Sept. 17, 1938, she was just 16. He was 19. She had to get permission from her parents.
Wallace, who turns 100 in April, said he knew she was the one from the first time they met.
“She was everything,” he said. “She was good looking.”
For Gladys, 97, the feeling was mutual.
“I loved him at first sight,” she said. “He was nice. He was good looking.”
On the day before Valentine’s Day, the couple was officially named 2019′s Longest Married Couple by the Louisiana Family Forum.
It is an honor the organization bestows on the top 10 Louisiana couples every year.
“We knew you had plans for Valentine’s Day, so we wanted to honor y’all today,” said Gene Mills, president of the Louisiana Family Forum. “Eighty years is an incredible accomplishment. We celebrate what you have done and the example you have set for the rest of us.”
The Menards lived a typical southern Louisiana life for those days. It was tough at times, with plenty of bumps and tragedies along the way.
They resided in Lafayette and sharecropped the land they were living on, making $10 a year farming cotton. They had no electricity in the house and no indoor bathroom. Because the couple had no car, they relied on horse and buggy for transportation.
“I had to ride with my daddy in that buggy to get to work,” Wallace recalled. “But I always worked, and everyone liked the job I did. Never got fired.”
Eventually children came along. Two sons, John Wilbert and Robert Joseph, both now deceased, were followed by one daughter, Mary Grace Menard, who died as a baby.
“She had a tumor on her hip,” Gladys recalled. “She was 6 months old.”
Over the years, the Menards’ family grew in size and number, well past 100 members. The couple have eight grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and 18 great-great-grandchildren. They credit their physical and mental good health — both are still active and have good memories — to always being surrounded by family, helping to raise many of them as small children.
“I remember my mom used to drop me off here and go to work,” said Amanda Mire, a great-granddaughter. “I used to help her clean. That was fun when (we) were little.”
Great-great-granddaughter Addison Arabie, 14, said many of her friends find it hard to believe she has a great-great-grandmother who is still living.
“They’re amazed,” Addison said. “They’re like, oh my gosh. They think it’s so cool. I want to be like them. They know everything.”
In 1962, the couple built their first home in Judice for $8,000. They still live there today. In order to make ends meet, they both held jobs. Wallace worked at a charity hospital earning $30 a month. Gladys worked at a grocery store making $1.50 an hour.
“I never touched a bill,” Wallace said. “She paid all the bills. She had more education than me.”
Wallace said he dropped out of school to work. He also spent time in the Navy during World War II, but contracted the mumps and was discharged after just seven months. Eventually, he ended up at Service Chevrolet as a mechanic and later drove a school bus for Lafayette Parish. He finally opened his own mechanic shop in Judice and worked there until his retirement.
The family patriarch only recently gave up his driver’s license when he decided not to renew it on his 99th birthday.
Although the Menards said they were blessed with a large family, they still feel the pain of losing their only children. Their son Robert died of cancer in his 60s. John Wilbert was also in his 60s when he died in a shooting in Lafayette.
Gladys said it was their strong bond that got them through the tragedies.
“It helped,” she said holding back tears. “It sure did.”
Gladys spent most of her years as the main caretaker of the family. Many of the grandchildren and their children live on the same street. In fact, eight of the homes on the Menards’ block are occupied by family members.
It is evident that the couple’s extraordinary love story has stood the test of time. But many wonder how that is possible, in a time when divorce and the break up of families is so common.
Family members say that answer is simple.
“They taught us to be together,” grandson Keith Menard said. “And not let anything bother us. They taught us respect and common sense.”
Information from: The Advertiser, http://www.theadvertiser.com