Tom Boschert started a challenging tradition when he gave his fiancée, Marilyn Lee, an engraved, heart-shaped silver charm for Valentine’s Day in 1967.
Challenging because the Belleville man had to keep thinking of sentiments to put on charms for the next 50 years.
“It got more and more difficult,” said Tom, 71, a former Air Force pilot and retired civil servant at Scott Air Force Base. “It was like, ‘What the heck am I going to say this year?’”
Tom has given Marilyn 61 charms, one for almost every Valentine’s Day — he admits dropping the ball a couple of years — and a few for other special occasions.
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Today, the charms hang on two bracelets and three necklaces. Most are heart-shaped, but no two are alike.
“I always wear them on Valentine’s Day, and I break them out for other occasions,” said Marilyn, 75, who taught special education and held other jobs in education over the years. “They’re loud and heavy.”
The first charm read “Marilyn & Tom” on the front and “2-14-67” on the back. Tom mailed it to Marilyn when he was a business student at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She was teaching in Colorado.
“I had to go out and get a bracelet, and that cost more than the charm,” she said, repeating a long-running family joke.
Tom continued to give Marilyn charms after they got married the following August, rotating between general romantic sentiments and specific references to life events.
He had “Empty Nest Love” engraved on a charm in 1994, after their two children, Jeffrey Boschert and the late Kristine Polley, moved out of the house. A charm dated 12-25-74 reads, “We 3 7/9.”
“I was seven months pregnant with my daughter,” Marilyn said. (Jeffrey had already been born.)
It got more and more difficult. It was like, ‘What the heck am I going to say this year?’
Tom Boschert on coming up with sentiments for charms
Ties to journalism
Marilyn grew up in the coal-mining town of Marissa, where her father, Thomas J. Lee, co-owned and served as editor of the Marissa Messenger. Her mother, Kathleen “Toots” Lee, wrote a popular social column.
Marilyn spent the summer of 1966 touring Europe with three girlfriends and decided to swing by Illinois to visit her family before returning to work in Colorado. Tom was interning at the Messenger and living with the Lees.
“I was editor of The Alestle (SIUE’s student newspaper), and her brother, Richard, was the adviser,” said Tom, an Alton native. “He sent me to Marissa to do an internship.”
Tom asked Marilyn to get a malt at the Dairy Store, but they ended up driving to the Forest Inn for a “schooner” of beer.
Much of Marissa was dry at the time. The bar was out in the country.
“It wasn’t really a date,” Tom said. “I had 90 cents in my pocket. I was wondering how I was going to pay for two beers. We didn’t have any snacks.”
Later that week, Tom offered to drive Marilyn to Lambert Field to get a plane ticket for her trip back to Denver. She helped him buy a suit at Boyd’s department store in downtown St. Louis.
“This young guy was really interested in hearing all about my trip to Europe — at least he pretended to be — and I was dying to talk about it,” she said.
First kiss at Christmas
Marilyn and Tom ended the summer as friends. She was still sweet on an Italian she had met under the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but that fizzled out, so she started exchanging letters with Tom.
When Marilyn went home for Christmas, she spent every day with Tom for a week. They kissed, but neither remembers the location or circumstances.
“I asked him if he wanted to come to Denver for New Year’s Eve, so he drove me and my roommate,” Marilyn said. “But there was a snowstorm, and they shut down Interstate 70.
“We stopped at this motel, and we made Tom hide in the back seat because in those days, it wasn’t proper for guys and gals who weren’t married to stay in the same room, and we didn’t want to pay for two rooms.”
Marilyn insists that no “hanky-panky” took place at the motel, but in a spontaneous move, Tom proposed. He didn’t have an engagement ring.
“The details are a bit foggy,” he said. “I don’t know what her roommate was doing. Maybe she was brushing her teeth.”
The lovebirds got married on Aug. 19, 1967, at the Presbyterian church in Marissa. Her parents hosted a reception with finger sandwiches in their backyard. Friends spelled out “Just Married” on his car with masking tape.
“I had to sell my car to buy my gown,” Marilyn said. “It was a red Ford Falcon convertible. My folks paid for the wedding, and they gave us our wedding book (of photos), so I paid for the gown.”
The Boscherts spent their wedding night at a Carbondale motel before heading down to Kentucky Lake for their honeymoon.
I looked forward to it. I couldn’t wait to see what he would come up with. It was fun.
Marilyn Boschert on getting charms each year
After college, Tom served five years in the Air Force with stints in Texas, California, Maine and Ohio. He later worked as a sales rep, including two years in Holland, before the couple moved back to Illinois in 2000. Today, they have four grandchildren.
Through it all, Tom kept buying charms for his sweetheart and somehow came up with the right words to express his love.
“Most of them are pretty schmaltzy,” he said.
Tom sent Marilyn one of her most unusual charms — a silver heart engraved with an Asian happy face — in 1971 while stationed overseas during the Vietnam War.
One charm has a mistake on it. Tom gave it to Marilyn on Valentine’s Day in 1975, just before she had Kristine.
“It was supposed to say, ‘Soon to be 4,’ (meaning a family of four),” he said. “But the 4 got left off, so it just says, ‘Soon to be.’”
In August, Tom splurged for a custom-made pendant to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the day he met Marilyn. A gold “M,” traced from his own handwriting, is soldered on the silver heart. On the back, it reads, “You came into my life 8/66.”
Marilyn may joke about the heavy weight of the charms or having to buy her original bracelet, but she loves the romantic tradition her husband started when they were young.
“Just the thoughtfulness of him doing it year after year,” she said. “I looked forward to it. I couldn’t wait to see what he would come up with. It was fun.”