In 70-plus years of marriage, Bill and Mary Andrew have experienced a lot from running a homestead in Alaska to surviving natural disasters to raising four children, but they’ve always met each challenge together.
Their newest challenge isn’t one that may seem visible as Bill, 91, fights congestive heart failure and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. He recently transitioned to hopsice care in their home but he and his wife Mary, 90, continue to tease each other, laugh and reminisce about the secrets to 70 years of marriage.
At their home in Sinclair Place in Sequim, Bill wears a navy blue World War II veteran hat as he sits beside Mary recounting their years and memories together.
“We don’t keep secrets and we talk things over,” Mary said.
“I learned a long time ago to think of the other first,” Bill said.
“And besides that, I gave you four good kids,” Mary said.
They first met in California in 1946 — the same year Bill finished serving in the Navy during WWII.
Bill and his friends would race from his work at Douglas Aircraft Company to the restaurant Mary worked to see who would get there first. He won the race the day he met Mary.
“And that’s how it started,” Bill said.
“He won out,” Mary said.
One year later the couple, Bill, 20, and Mary, 19, got married.
Beforehand, Bill worked in communications with radio teletype in the U.S. Navy and traveled to and from Guam.
“I signed up a week before I was 17,” Bill said. “It wasn’t a question then.”
Bill said both his father and brother were in the military and because he was so young when he joined the war his mother had to sign for him to join.
He said he never thought he would get out of the war because there was a high demand for young, single men to stay in.
“I tell ya, I thought I was going to be in forever,” he said. “A young guy and single; you’re going to be in for a while.”
The Andrews lived briefly in La Crescenta, Calif., with their four children — Donna, Bill, Linda and Deborah — where Bill worked as a distributor for the Los Angeles Times.
“It was a good paper to work for,” Bill said.
Occasionally, Bill’s paper route became a family affair.
“When we first got the route, I drove the car, (Donna) passed the papers to her dad and Debbie was in the front seat,” Mary said.
“I drove the route and he threw the papers,” she said.
“And he taught me how to throw them,” Donna said.
“Those were good memories,” she said.
The family then moved to Wasilla, Alaska, in 1961 where Bill was given a homestead from his sister because she couldn’t meet the requirements for keeping it.
“The rules for homesteading was you got 160 acres from the government and because he was a veteran we had to live on the land and prove it,” Donna said.
She said they had to live on the land for about 5-7 years before they earned their title. They went on to spend 20 years there.
In 1964, the Andrews survived the Great Alaskan earthquake that came in at a 9.2 on the Richter scale.
Bill had stopped at a friend’s house at Lake Lucille on the way to take Donna to get a garment for a school dance when they felt the ground start to shake.
“I thought it was a strong wind and it got more violent and more violent,” Donna said.
Donna, raised a Catholic, said she thought it was the end of the world.
She remembers the trees whipping back and forth, and the lake’s ice breaking and shooting water up higher than the trees.
“For five and-a-half minutes, at 16, all I could think about was where are the souls?” Donna said.
Bill said he thought the shaking from the earthquake was the Russians bombing Anchorage with an atomic bomb.
“(The trees) bent over and almost touched the ground and back the other way,” Bill said, “And all I could think of was that terrific blast and what that would look like.”
When he was in Guam with the Navy, Bill said he saw parts of the atomic bomb coming through where he was stationed.
Moving to Sequim
Bill and Mary eventually brought their love story to Sequim and moved to Diamond Point in 1989 after visiting the area several times during the winter because it was similar to both California and Alaska climates.
“This is a cross between California and Alaska,” Mary said.
“When we moved here, it wasn’t as crowded as it now,” Mary said.
Since living in Sequim, they have celebrated milestone anniversaries and have their two daughters Donna and Deborah close by.
Bill and Mary have made a tradition of having a catered and candlelit dinner at their home to celebrate their anniversary over the last several years.
For their 70th anniversary, Bill and Mary’s three daughters and their husbands made a steak and Alaskan King Crab dinner for them at Deborah’s home in Sequim.
Donna said throghout the years her parents have always stuck together through everything including recently transitioning Bill into hospice care. She said her father has lost 40 pounts in six weeks and he has both good and bad days but he and her mother talk very openly aboud death.
“I admire their strength and tenacity and their ability to work through any issue and share their love with us,” Donna said.
“The love in our family is an amazing bond. I’m so honored and pleased they are still here with us and we can enjoy them.”
Reach Erin Hawkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.