Couples living at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snow’s retirement community recently celebrated their many years of marriage with cake, champagne punch and music. Some contributed wedding photos for a display set up in a hallway. We talked to three couples who have been married 69 years.
Norbert and Rita Wenzel
A sense of humor and similar likes keep Norbert and Rita Wenzel, of Belleville, smiling.
When they married: Sept. 7, 1946, at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Freeburg. Norbert and the former Rita Mudd had a double ceremony with her sister, Adele, and Charles Carter. “My sister said she was getting married on Sept 7. I said, ‘Oh, I will have to talk to Norb about that.’ I told him, ‘My sister is getting married and so are we.’ Back in those days, there were no ruffles and beads. We were lucky to have a dress.”
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Their wedding: 8:30 on a Saturday morning. “The first night we stayed at Hotel Belleville (which later became the Meredith Home),” said Rita. “It was 100 degrees when we left Belleville. He didn’t have a car. We went on a honeymoon together (to Wisconsin) with my sister and her husband, and had a ball.” Until ... “She got homesick and we had to come home a little early,” said Norb. “I missed my mom,” Rita said.
How they met: At a dance hall. “As I recall, she was talking to somebody,” said Norb. “I happened to walk by. She said, ‘Hi, Norb.’” “I was flirting,” Rita said.
“A friend of mine wanted to date her,” said Norb. “She had a good friend and they were together all the time. He asked me, ‘Would you ask her friend for a date and we’ll go on a double date?’ This gal was OK. I don’t remember where we went, but both of them were anxious to get rid of us. Sure enough, we decided to take them home. Something was fishy. I think they were standing behind a tree waiting for someone else to come around.” Rita: “Dating back then, you were just friends. We will go to dance with you but dance with whoever asks us to dance.”
Their courtship: “I went in the service in 1943,” said Norb. “After boot camp, I was shipped to Australia. I was in the Navy a month or two shy of three years. In that time, I don’t think there was a half a dozen days she hadn’t written me a letter.”
What he liked about her: “She was cute.”
What she liked about him: “I guess the same thing,” said Rita. “I think we had a lot of similarities. We can read each other’s mind now.”
“You can believe that,” said Norb. The Wenzels like playing cards and, occasionally, going to a casino.
Who wins arguments? “Most of the time I give in,” said Norb. “We agree pretty well,” said Rita. “Usually, we discuss things.”
Their lives: Norb, a carpenter by trade, was also Belleville building commissioner. At first, he wasn’t convinced the commissioner job was for him. “She says, ‘Norb, why don’t you go after that job?’ I wasn’t interested. I said I’d take it for a month. I was there 23 years.” Rita was a homemaker and volunteer. They lived at 409 S. Missouri St. for 60 years. “I built the house,” said Norb. “We never left it till the day we moved here,” said Rita. “I was ready. The day we decided to move here was the day he said, ‘I am ready.’ It was a little bit too much responsibility witih the house. There was something to worry about all the time.”
Family: “We had five kids (Michael Wenzel and Geri Lynn Linck, both of Belleville; Gary Wenzel, of Columbia; Judy Rogers, of Tucson, Ariz.; and Kevin Wenzel, of Decatur, Ga.) who went to Cathedral Grade School,” said Rita. “They were good students. If you don’t believe me, go over and ask Mrs. Dahlman. She was their teacher and she lives here.” They have 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
A favorite pastime: Playing cards, euchre and pinochle.
What advice do you have for newlyweds? “Take your vows seriously,” said Rita. “It’s a lifetime commitment. Once you make that commitment, you have to live by it. We have been blessed all of our years. Our high school motto was ‘Life is what you make it.’”
“You gotta love each other,” said Norb. “We had a good life and took care of each other.”
Walter and Dolores Hoff
Rainy weather didn’t keep Walter and Dolores Hoff indoors. The couple, who are 94 and 92, sat on an outdoor patio, reading the newspaper and enjoying nearby flowers in bloom.
“When you are raised in the country, you like to be outside,’ said Dolores.
How they met: “We grew up in Germantown,” said Dolores. “It was a little town. You couldn’t help but meet people.”
“It was before she had that silver hair,” said Walter.
“I was blond,” Dolores said. “I got to be good friends with his one sister. He’s a pretty good guy. We just hit it off right away. War came along. He went into the Air Force and was sent to Japan. I wrote to him all the time.” Walter served in the Army Air Corps in the South Pacific, Philippines, New Guinea and Okinawa, too.
When they married: Feb. 4, 1946, at St. Boniface in Germantown. “We had to drive into St. Louis to get our pictures taken,” said Dolores, whose maiden name is Schoendienst. They also visited his sisters, who were religious Sisters of St. Mary.
Their family: Eight children (Jim, of Nampa, Idaho; Joyce Day, of Cahokia; Joann Hoehn and MaryKay Hoff, both of St. Louis; Michael, of San Francisco; Mark, of Salt Lake City; Joe, of Richmond, Va., and Marty, of Austin, Texas), eight grandchildren and one great-grandson.
Where Walter worked: International Shoe Co. at 14th and Olive in downtown St. Louis. The business later moved to West County and became Senack Shoes Inc. Walter started out packing shoes, and eventually was in management.
Where they lived: In the Shaw neighborhood of south St. Louis.
What made it work: “We loved each other. We had things in common. Sports in common, baseball and basketball. I played at it. I was too skinny mini,” Dolores said. “Red Schoendienst happens to be my first cousin. We played ball from morning until night.” Both liked growing things. “Dad was a great gardener,” said oldest daughter Joyce. “We had a garden when we were growing up. When Dad worked in west county, he had a vegetable garden there. From what I remember, Mom did geraniums and roses.”
A daughter’s memory: “They were good parents, very religious,” said Joyce. “They made sure we went to church, and sent us to Catholic schools. Dad worked a couple jobs and coached softball teams for us. Mom was a stay-at-home mom. She did a good job. She was a good cook. We almost always had meat and potatoes. There was a lot of laundry to do and a lot of dishes to do. My sisters and I would sing when we did the dishes. That came from my mom. We pretended we were the Lennon sisters from the Lawrence Welk show.”
Favorite family time: “At least once a month, we’d all pack into our station wagon and head out to Germantown to see our grandmas.” said Joyce. “That was always fun. We’d be singing or praying the rosary. When we saw the town, we’d say, ‘I see the steeple.’ ‘I see the water tower.’ We vied to be first to see it.”
Walter and Dolores’ interests: Both are devout Catholics who watch Mass together every morning. They enjoy watching sports and singing. “Mom played piano; Dad sang,” said Dolores. “When we’d do the dishes, we’d all line up with a towel. We would dry dishes while we were singing. I had seven sister and two brothers”
Favorite songs: “Show Me The Way to Go Home” and “Carry Me Back To Old Virginia.” “The only thing, it makes me cry,” said Walter.
Their advice: Have something in common that you can share.
Thomas and Doris Prosser
The woven wall hangings in Thomas and Doris Prosser’s room give a clue to their charitable work.
Thomas, a retired dentist, set up a summer dental clinic in Guastatoya, Guatemala, for the Belleville diocese. His wife went along to help.
“It was the only time I was his assistant,” said Doris.
“She learned to speak a little Spanish,” said Thomas. “We made nine trips there.”
Thomas recruited other dentists to go other times of the year. The dental clinic later was turned over to the dental school there.
“I was in fourth grade when Dad made his first visit,” said daughter Linda Mehochko, of New Baden. “We were all involved. Pharmaceutical companies donated medicine that we spread out on the ping pong table. I would help sort it. What was instilled in us was a sense of duty. We are here to help serve others. My sister and I both volunteer at hospitals. My brothers volunteer. Four of five of us entered the medical field one way or another. The youngest is chief of police in Iowa. We are all in service fields.”
How they met: “We grew up in the same block (of East St. Louis),” said Thomas. “We lived on 18th Street. My father was a dentist also. I bummed around with Doris’ brother.”
“He would come down to play ball with my brother,” said Doris. “I would mosey in. Finally, he started bumming around with me.”
“We just kind of grew on one another, didn’t we, honey?” said Thomas. “Her brother was supposed to be my best man but didn’t get home from the service in time.”
Doris graduated from East St. Louis Senior High School; Thomas, from Central Catholic. “I worked as a secretary before we married,” said Doris. “In fact, the company I worked for, if you were married, you couldn’t work there.”
When they married: Sept. 29, 1945, at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in East St. Louis by Monsignor Albert R. Zuroweste, uncle of the groom. “It rained cats and dogs that day,” said Doris. “It started the night before at rehearsal dinner. When we got up to Chicago, Tom had to take his state boards. It was raining in Chicago.” When they got back, they moved in with Thomas’s grandmother, then to Enid, Olka, where Thomas served as a captain in the U.S. Army Dental Corps for two years
Where the Prossers lived: Thomas and Doris moved from East St. Louis to O’Fallon in 1973, then to Shiloh in 2005. They were active in St. Clare Catholic Church in O’Fallon. After Doris had a stroke in 2012, they moved to the Shrine’s retirement and nursing home communities. “Dad had a scooter and would visit mom every day at Dammert,” said Linda. Now, they’re together again. “They’re wonderful personalities,” she said. “They continued giving by working at Cosgrove’s kitchen and volunteering at St. Clare.”
Their family: five children: Kathy Schoenberg, of Jacksonville, Fla.; Dr. Joseph Prosser, a physician in Mansfield, Texas; Linda Mehochko, a nurse who lives in New Baden; Mark Prosser, a police chief in Storm Lake, Iowa, and the late Thomas Prosser, who was a pedaitric dentist in Marietta, Ga. The Prossers have nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
His career: Thomas worked together with his dad at their dental practice in Loisel Village shopping center, and later, in Fairview Heights. “In those days, it was not like it is today,” he said. “We had evening hours.” Linda said her father was instrumental in getting fluoride added to the water systems.
Because Dad was a dentist: “If we had candy, we brushed our teeth immediately after,” said daughter Linda. “I don’t have any cavities. Never have.”
Something in common: Sports. That rainy afternoon, they were watching a Cardinals game on TV. “I was a high school soccer referee,” said Thomas, “for this side of the river and St. Louis. It helped my legs and brain a little bit.”
“We played a lot of tennis when we were young,” said Doris. “He had a stronger arm but I didn’t do too bad. One time, we had a bicycle built for two. We’d ride that around.” “That was in our later years,” said Thomas.
Advice: “Make the most of life while you can,” said Thomas.