Two families are celebrating 65 years of marriage -- and even more of companionship.
They grew up in north Minneapolis, hanging out and going to school and even working on the same popcorn wagon together. They have been close friends for their entire adult lives, playing cards and dancing, often while their children frolicked together.
In between, the Karlsgodts and Rudsers bonded in a way that few couples can claim: They all dashed off to South Dakota and got married together.
The two couples celebrated their 65th anniversary on Jan. 25, but perhaps the commemoration should be a few weeks from now, marking the date when they started acting like newlyweds.
"All of us kept it secret after we got back," Mary Ellen Karlsgodt said. "We got married on the weekend and put our rings in our pockets, went back to our parents' houses and went to work on Monday. Herman came from a family that was all educated, and he didn't want them to know."
They were "ratted out" when a family friend sent Herman Karlsgodt's parents a newspaper clip from Watertown, S.D., about the nuptials. "So then we went and bought utensils and stuff and moved in together," Mary Ellen Karlsgodt said.
They've lived near Ted and Arlene Rudser for most of those 65 years. Both couples also eventually had cabins near Mora, Minn. Each couple had two children, first a son and then a daughter.
"It's strange," Herman Karlsgodt said. "We didn't always plan it that way, but we always ended up living close to each other."
And those fun times might just have contributed to their longevity (their ages range from 86 to 89). A University of Maryland study recently found that couples who are close often give each other a framework that can improve the health and life span of everyone involved.
The closeness extended beyond geography. The two men shared a love for cars, and "Arlene and I are gamblers," Mary Ellen Karlsgodt said, with an almost salacious laugh.
"They always had fun and laughed a lot, even through difficult times," said Wendy Antolak, the Karlsgodts' daughter. "Neither had much money [the men worked for the railroad and in insurance, the wives at occasional jobs], but they made their own fun times."
Ribs and lutefisk
The couples' ties became closer as they raised their children. Their sons were classmates through high school (Brooklyn Center, class of 1966), the daughters a few years apart but still childhood chums.
"We lucked out and both had great kids," Mary Ellen Karlsgodt said. "Everybody was really involved and knew what our kids were doing, and we had a batch of good teachers and great neighbors."
Both couples liked to go out hoofin' -- the Karlsgodts were avid Norwegian folk dancers into their 70s -- or stay in and play cards.
They often would "get together and eat barbecued ribs," Ted Rudser said. Herman Karlsgodt speaks fondly of their outings to lutefisk and Norwegian meatball dinners in Mora.
"We did it all," Mary Ellen Karlsgodt said. "We had a lot of fun."
The double anniversary is a result of not one but two spur-of-the-moment decisions. Ted Rudser had been dating Arlene Kragerud for about a year. After returning from military service in Guam, he proposed on Christmas Day 1945. She accepted, and they kept it quiet until deciding to elope a month later (couples could get a same-day marriage certificate in South Dakota, while Minnesota required a two-week wait).
One problem: "I didn't have a car that would go to South Dakota," Ted Rudser said. "I was working at a gas station, and my car was the tow truck. But Herman had a car."
So the four of them piled in and headed west. Herman Karlsgodt and Mary Ellen Stahara had been dating for nine months, but had no betrothal intentions -- until the very last minute.
"We just said, 'Why don't we get married, too?'" Mary Ellen said.
Ted Rudser added: "They were friends, and they were going to stand up for us, so we stood up for them."
They've been standing together ever since.
Bill Ward • 612-673-7643