Faith, laughter and love sustain couple for 75 years
For 3/4 of a century, Bill and Elaine Klass have been as one, and now, the Cornell couple will celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary Sunday, June 14. Bill turns 97 in October, while Elaine will be 94 in July.
The two met when they were just young kids, walking every day to the Eleanor Country School in the Crescent area. They lived about a mile and a half from the school house, with Bill living north and Elaine living east.
“We went to grade school together,” said Elaine. “I guess we just kind of fell in love when we were kids.”
Bill may make a face at that statement, as he kind of liked Elaine’s older sister. But, that wasn’t to be.
“She fell for another guy and I was out of the picture,” said Bill.
Once he was in high school, Bill rode his bike six miles to the Cornell High School, but after bus service was offered to Cadott, he went there and so did Elaine. They graduated from Cadott High School in 1943 and 1944, respectively.
Although the two ended up together eventually, Bill did have a steady girlfriend for a while and Elaine dated some others, as well.
“She dated every boy in Chippewa County,” said Bill, adding that some of the dates were on the same night. “I’d go over to pick her up and the yard would be full of cars. I don’t know which ones she went out with, but I didn’t stand a chance.”
“Oh, it was not,” said Elaine. “I had a date with this one fella and I did make a date with the other fella. The one came after me, then the other one was there. But, I never did that, only once.”
After Elaine decided Bill was the one for her, the two went on dates to Rainbow Gardens Dance Hall, on County Hwy. O, which was the place to be at the time. They also went to dances at the Bohemian Hall, dropped by the Drywood Bar and roller skated at the old Crescent Dance Hall.
Roller skating was held in the Crescent Hall on Sundays, and it was unique, as the bandstand was on a raised platform in the middle of the dance floor.
“So, we had that to go around when we skated,” said Bill. “Them was the good old years, I think. Times were tough, but everybody was the same. Nobody had nothing back then.”
At the old Presbyterian Church in Cornell, Bill and Elaine were married in 1945, with Elaine wearing a dress ordered out of the Sears Montgomery catalogue.
Once they said their vows, when the two came to Cornell, they rented an upstairs apartment by Main Street, where the school’s garage is now. They later rented a house across the river and from there, moved to a farm Bill’s dad bought on the highway. Eventually, they moved back to Cornell and, bought a house behind what is now the Brunet Apartments House.
“We lived there until we built this house (on the corner of Bates Street),” said Bill.
That was 1959.
“They’ve been here since,” said their daughter, Sandy Kadlec.
Elaine’s father, who farmed and was in construction, helped build the house, as did Bill’s dad. Bill worked on the house during the day and at the mill at night.
Working at the Cornell Paper Mill held many memories for Bill, including an important one in the family’s history.
The day he was hired, the family’s destiny was sealed. “I think that was the day I got your engagement ring,” he said to Elaine. Bill at first had worked at the cheese factory in Crescent, in the wintertime, before he started with the Madison Silo Company, building silos all summer. Once he was hired at the mill in 1945, Bill worked in the old wood yard, then moved into the mill, proper, after five or six years, to the maintenance department.
He made 60 cents an hour, working 10-hour days.
“We got a big check, about $20-some a week…$5 bought all the groceries we needed to eat for the week,” said Bill.
“That was before the kids came.” Bill worked at the mill for 42 years before he retired. Elaine worked at the paper mill in the offi ce, then at the Ben Franklin store and, finally, at Northwestern Bank for 19 years, retiring from there. “We had a very nice life, I think,” she said. “We were very lucky. We had nice children and nice grandchildren.”
Sandy was born in 1946, and their son, Denny, was born in 1948. Between the two of them, they gave their parents five grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren. Up until a few years ago, the two proud grandparents never missed a school event.
“They’ve been awesome parents,” said Sandy. “There was nothing we wanted for growing up.”
Bill said there was not much for entertainment back in “the old days” without TV, so they made their own entertainment, by sending the kids to the kitchen to do the dishes, then sitting back and listening to them fight, much to the children’s chagrin.
That wasn’t their only entertainment, however, as the family spent several nights a week at ballgames, where Bill played with his mill teammates.
“All these towns around had a good baseball team,” said Bill. “As far as I know, I’m the last living member of the Cornell Union Giants team.”
Bill also joined the fire department when they first moved to Cornell, as the fire siren woke everyone up in town when the whistle blew, anyway.
“I figured I might as well join it, so I did,” said Bill.
Denny later joined the department and still serves as chief after 50 years.
Although he was an elder in the Presbyterian Church, and he and Elaine were very active in the church, Bill says he never really joined clubs in town.
“I was too busy with other things,” said Bill.
After he couldn’t play baseball any longer, Bill took up golf, hunted and fished, whittled and even painted elaborate scenes by number.
Elaine not only golfed, but also bowled, traveling to State tournaments. Of course, she also gardened and canned, and was known as a wonderful baker and cook, something she sadly can’t do anymore, with her macular degeneration.
“I can’t see,” said Elaine.
As evidenced by their long-time involvement in Cornell, the duo were the grand marshals for the 2013 centennial celebration parade.
In years past, the couple walked every day and rode bicycles, which Sandy firmly believe is what helped the two live to the ripe old age they are.
“I never knew anybody this old growing up,” said Bill. “We’re probably the oldest couple living together in town.”
When they retired, the two went to Florida for a month now and then – without the kids, as pointed out by Sandy.
“That’s why we stayed a month,” said Elaine, with a wink.
Now that they are slowing down, the couple needs help from their family, which they get from two of the grandkids who live nearby, Sandy and her husband, Ronnie. Family has always been important to the couple and Christmas was no exception, with all the presents and decorations.
Elaine says they have been very happy in their time together.
“He was a very good husband, never beat me up,” she said with a laugh. “Right now, I could walk away from him for a couple days.”
Bill agreed the little house has seen more arguments as the couple got out less and less.
“You can’t think of anything else, let’s just have a little argument,” he said with a grin.
Despite their teasing, Sandy says she never saw her parents fight growing up and remembers when the time came for her dad to come home from work, her mom would put on lipstick and comb her hair. She says her parents always kissed and told each other they loved the other when they left the house, something that isn’t seen much in marriages now days.
“Not until I was 80 years old, did we ever have a fight,” said Elaine.
“Oh, we’d get in a little argument once in a while, just for the fun of making up afterwards,” said Bill.
The couple’s faith has gotten them through recent health issues and will see them through what the future holds, whether it is staying in their own home or being called to their Heavenly home. Either way, they’ll face it together.
“We just loved each other,” said Elaine of the last 75 years.
“I always said how lucky we were that we found our mate,” said Bill. “There are a lot people who never had it so good.”