When Ellen Rouse and Clelland Darr began dating, they were kids who lived 8 miles apart in rural northwestern Iowa. She was 14, he was 15.
"They told us it would never last," Ellen recalled, "that it was just puppy love."
The Darrs, now living in Andover, celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary this year. It's a rare feat with only a small group of U.S. couples having reached the so-called diamond anniversary. The world's longest-known existing marriage -- 87 years and counting -- belongs to a couple living in England.
These days, nearly half of all U.S. marriages end in divorce. So how'd the Darrs do it?
"We took our vows seriously," said Ellen, holding her husband's hand.
And, she quickly added, "We never dreamed we could get this old."
He'll be 94 on Dec. 13. She turns 93 on Nov. 27. Their marriage produced six children, 18 grandchildren, 46 great-grandchildren and 10 great-great-grandchildren (and they are expecting four more great-great-grandchildren before spring). Four of their kids have celebrated 50th wedding anniversaries.
The couple spent Thanksgiving at a granddaughter's home in Andover, with a couple dozen relatives for dinner.
Cranking the Model T
During a lifetime of marriage, the Darrs -- retired crop and livestock farmers -- say nothing could drive them apart. Not a courtship during the Great Depression. Not a devastating hailstorm in 1954 that destroyed all their crops and ravaged their farm. Not Clelland's heart attack in 1962.
They managed without electricity until 1939 and didn't have any running water until 1950. They'd carry water nearly a block, heating it by the pot-belly stove when they needed to fill the washtub. If they wanted soft water for washes, they added vinegar.
The family car went out of gear so often that they'd remove the floorboard to get the vehicle back in gear. Shades of "The Flintstones."
For years, they had no credit. Their kitchen was so small that when they did get electricity and eventually got their first refrigerator, the new appliance had to go in the dining room.
"Best piece of furniture we had," Ellen said.
Hard times had toughened the Darrs long before their wedding day on June 1, 1937, in Ruthven, Iowa (a dual ceremony with Clelland's sister and husband-to-be). Ellen's mother died when Ellen was a high school sophomore. As the eldest girl in the family, she was responsible for cooking and cleaning for seven. She planted the garden and tended to her brother's wrist and arm injuries, incurred when cranking up the family's Ford Model A.
Years later, when Ellen, Clelland and their six kids moved to Dodge Center in southeastern Minnesota, and into a home with just one bathroom and three bedrooms, "we thought we were in seventh heaven," Ellen said.
They slept on mattresses the family stuffed with corn husks.
'The perfect match'
The Darrs didn't sit around watching TV. They didn't have one until 1956 -- a black-and-white model, of course. For 40 years, they got up at the break of day and were exhausted by suppertime. Instead of letting the pressures of life gnaw at their relationship, they cherished their time together.
"We never talked about divorce, never considered it," Ellen said, turning toward her husband, who is hard of hearing. "We never had any serious arguments. Did we?"
Clelland, who doesn't talk a lot but knows exactly the right thing to say, responded, "I guess we must have found the perfect match."
The Darrs live in Andover's Farmstead assisted-living complex. They make most of their meals and are fiercely independent.
"I don't think we have any secrets," said Ellen, who admits she never learned why her husband was named Clelland.
She prefers to tease him about the loss of his hair. Or play bingo with him. Or get his opinion on the pillows she makes for their great-grandchildren.
"We've always worked hard together," she said. "We just like being together."
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419