Two tales of love

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This column originally appeared in the Review on April 2, 2008. For Jim’s column on his parents’ 65th anniversary, see this week’s Review, April 3, 2013.

Link to Wayne King’s Facebook page:

One for the ages

Forget sports this week. I want to tell you a love story instead.

It’s not a flashy, meet-cute love story. This one is quiet and deep, like a mountain lake.

He was a man with a past – a high school dropout (some say he quit before he was kicked out), a child of divorce. He was divorced himself with a young daughter.

Rumor had it that he had built the first motorcycle in his hometown on the prairie of central Illinois.

So he was good at making things work.

Right then, he was trying to make his life work. He was a Navy vet, and during a stint in the South Pacific he had a religious awakening, accepting Jesus Christ as his personal savior.

She was younger – 18 to his 25. The elder daughter of a mechanical engineer, she was studying at a small private college near her hometown in northern Indiana. Her people were solid German stock.

Work brought him to her town. Co-workers of his who were high school friends of hers set them up on a blind date.

It was a whirlwind romance. That first date was the weekend before Thanksgiving. Early the next spring, they were quietly wed on their way to a little town on the Missouri-Oklahoma border. His company was building a new dairy manufacturing plant there.

All they had, those hundreds of miles away from their homes, was each other. More than husband and wife, they became best friends.

The young couple set out to build a life together, joining the Methodist church and starting a family.

First came a daughter. Eighteen months later, on Christmas Day, a son arrived.

They built a little ranch style house on a hilltop – not as high as the hilltops ranging Romney, but a respectable Ozark hilltop nonetheless.

Another son followed four years later, and another daughter four years after that.

As the family grew, so did the house. First came a two-bedroom, half-bath addition that included the luxury of a basement that could double as a bomb shelter.

He went to work every day and she stayed home to raise the children. Of an evening, he huddled at his radio desk and, as K0BPJ, made contact with other ham operators around the globe. She loved to cook. Together, they played a sharp game of pinochle with neighbors.

Mostly, they worked at raising those children to do their best and to love the Lord. He served for years as the Sunday school superintendent. She held district positions with the United Methodist Women.

The children grew and prospered, and then left the nest one by one, for college, for marriage, for their own lives.

A year after the last one graduated high school, they filled their empty nest again, bringing a teenage refugee from Zimbabwe to that little, all-white southern community.

As far as I know, that girl, Violet Kanonuhwa, became the first and only black to graduate from Seneca (Mo.) High School. She could do so because over those first 30 years the community had come to know Wayne and Margaret King as people who simply do the right thing for whoever needs it.

Wayne stayed with his company until he retired, resisting requests from the home office to leave his adopted hometown. Margaret stood behind the decision with her own determination.

They were settled in that house on the hill. It became a place where their children’s children would ride Grandpa’s mower and feast on Grandma’s cooking and fill the rooms with shouts and laughter during their visits.

In time, those grandchildren grew and wed and started bringing their children to experience the joys of the no-longer-little house on the hilltop.

The couple saw their family spread out – to Colorado, to Wyoming, to Texas, to Illinois, to West Virginia – and Wayne and Margaret’s love spread across the miles with them.

Their life was not without burdens. Their parents passed on, her aging aunt needed care and their children were not immune to the bruises and pitfalls of the world. They rose to each occasion together. Each challenge seemed only to draw them closer together.

After 35 years, Wayne’s retirement didn’t mean slowing down. It just allowed their vacations to Colorado grow longer. It gave them more time to devote to church.

Mostly, retirement gave them more time to enjoy each other’s company.

Their creativity and joy in life grew with each passing year. Margaret published her personal cookbook in 1997.

As the years flew past, Wayne spent more time playing with a camera than working the airwaves as a ham. Digital cameras led him to dabble in computers, where they began creating irreplaceable gifts and selling his photos.

To the delight and amazement of their extended family, they still go at a pace the three generations after them have a hard time keeping up with.

On Jan. 30, Margaret noted, they had been in that house, on those nearly two acres, for 55 years.

Last weekend, I had the unfathomable joy of joining my big brother, Violet and my other sisters, their families, and nearly 200 people from near and far who gathered to celebrate my parents’ lives and love.

Today, April 2, 2008, John Wayne King and his best friend, the former Margaret Ann Swihart, celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary.

It’s a love story with many more chapters to come.

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