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Love at first sight
Roseville couple celebrates 71st wedding anniversary
Marion Vesaas and Neil Skildum went on a double date more than 70 years ago. It was the first time they had met, and love was in the air. The problem was, however, they were on that date with different people.
“I was...with his friend Don, and he was with one of my girlfriends,” Marion explained.
“After the date, my friend told me, ‘He’s too tall for me.’ And I thought that was a good thing because I was interested in him.”
Just a few weeks later, six-foot-three-inch Neil and five-foot-tall Marion were going steady.
“It was instant love,” Neil said. “I never dated any girls until her.”
“I taught him everything I knew,” Marion joked.
The couple married about a year later on May 27, 1943, when Marion was 19 and Neil 21. Neil was on his first Army furlough, and Marion said she “floated” down the stairs of the church.
And nearly three-quarters of a century later, the two are just as in love as they were then.
Marion and Neil Skildum, 90 and 91, respectively, live at EagleCrest Terrace senior living apartments in Roseville. Until last year, they lived at their home on Idaho Avenue in the Como Park area, which Neil built 66 years prior.
“When I got back [from the war in 1946], we bought a lot in the Como Park area for $750, took out a $8,500 loan and I built a house with my dad and brother,” Neil said.
But they didn’t always have such deep roots in the area. Before the couple married in 1943, they hopped from place to place as Neil completed Army training at various camps in Louisiana, Texas and California. Marion traveled across the country “with the other wives” also following their husbands, taking receptionist and assistant jobs at doctors’ offices.
Neil says he’s amazed Marion could keep up with taking notes about so much medical jargon despite her lack of healthcare knowledge.
“I don’t know how she did it with just a high school diploma,” he said. To that, Marion says she “learned every day.”
In 1944, Neil went overseas to fight in World War II, the first (and last) time the couple would be separated in their lives.
“[Being apart] was just part of the deal,” Neil said of serving in the military.
Luckily, Marion said, she had work to keep herself occupied. But Neil wasn’t far from her mind.
“Over lunch hour, every noon, I’d write him a letter, for two years,” she said. “And I always felt better when I wrote.”
When Neil was able to write back, the letters were delivered to Marion’s father, who was a streetcar conductor in St. Paul.
“I’d meet him at 7th and Wabasha [streets],” she recalled. “He’d stop the streetcar, point to me and say, ‘This is my daughter, and this is a letter from her husband!’”
Kids, work and travel
Marion still remembers the exact date Neil returned to civilian life—Jan. 27, 1946.
Jan, their first daughter, was born later that year on Armistice Day. In fact, the rest of their children were born on holidays as well.
“Tom was born on New Year’s Day, Denny was Labor Day and Rick was on Washington’s birthday,” Marion said.
The family of six shared one bathroom, and their Idaho Avenue home served as a hub for the numerous other children living in the neighborhood.
“There must have been 50 kids in that one block,” Marion said. “And I was known as the ‘Cookie Lady.’”
Marion was indeed the “Cookie Lady,” baking up a storm of sometimes more than 100 cookies a week.
“Kids would come sit on the front stoop to wait for cookies,” she explained.
As a beneficiary of the prolific baker, Jan Hanson (maiden name Skildum) remembers her mother whipping up countless cookies for the neighbor kids.
“You wouldn’t be able to count them if you tried,” she said. “Mom must have made a million cookies. If only we had a nickel for each one...”
“Or even a penny!” Neil lamented.
Neil entered the construction business as soon as he returned stateside, he said. When he retired at 62, he says told himself, “If I could have 10 good years, I would be happy.”
Now, nearly 30 years later, Neil and Marion have traveled the country in their camper, touring the wild west, Alaska, Texas and Florida, among many other places.
Just last year, Neil took part in the Freedom Honor Flight, which honors veterans who served in World War II and the Korean War. The LaCrosse, Wisconsin-based organization flies veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the monuments dedicated to those who served, free of charge.
“It was very nice,” Neil said of the experience. “It was the first time I was on a passenger plane.”
Advice for other couples
The Skildums now have, in addition to their four kids, nine grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren, most of whom live in the Twin Cities area.
“We have one terrific family,” Marion said.
Not only are the Skildums the longest-married couple at EagleCrest Terrace, but also at their home parish, Como Park Lutheran Church.
“...The truth is they’re just a wonderfully compatible couple. They’re two very giving people who are fully committed to each other,” Father Martin Ericson, senior pastor at Como Park Lutheran, said.
Hanson says the two spouses are “very positive” people, despite having experienced sometimes painful and frustrating physical ailments over the years.
“They don’t whine about it. They’re not crabby,” Hanson said of her parents’ outlook on life. “I hope I can be like that when I get to their age.”
So what’s the Skildums’ secret to a long, happy marriage?
“Because [Marion] has such a wonderful husband,” Neil joked.
Marion, however, says the key is not to dwell on arguments and to express your feelings daily.
“I will not argue,” she said. “It’s a waste of time.”
“She tells me ‘I love you’ three times a day,” Neil added. “Love is the main thing.”
“When I said I loved him at the altar, I meant it,” Marion said.