After 75 years of marriage, couple would do it all over again

Dick and Velma Scharen were each other's gifts on Christmas Day, 1937.


SPRINGFIELD, Ore. (AP) -- If memory serves -- and it has to go back a long, long way -- Dick and Velma Scharen met either the day before or after Valentine's Day. Ten months later, on Christmas Day, they married. The year was 1937, in the depths of the Great Depression. He was 18, she was 15.

Now 93 and 90, the couple celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary Tuesday, snug in Springfield, surrounded by family members who provide round-the-clock support that allows them to stay where they've lived for nearly 50 years since leaving the farm near Goshen.

They met on that farm. Dick's people were Lane County pioneers. Coryell Pass, marked by a plaque alongside Franklin Boulevard east of Glenwood, was named for his forebears. His grandmother came west in the same wagon train as Eugene Skinner.

Of the 1,000-acre farm where Dick and his brothers -- Walter, Bill, Bob and Ted -- grew up, Barcelona filberts took up 70 acres and provided nursery stock for many area filbert orchards. The rest was used for other crops and livestock.

"Even if they didn't have money during the Depression, I think their lives were fairly stable," says Vicki Nelson, one of Dick and Velma's three children and the younger of their two daughters. "They had the farm and could grow food. My mother's family situation was much different."

Velma Robertson, blew into town from the Dust Bowl with her father and seven of nine siblings, in an old truck with a canopy over the bed.

Back in the Texas panhandle, her mother, just 35, had died of "dust pneumonia," an inflammation of the lungs caused by breathing in dust particles carried by the prairie wind as it blew away topsoil.

Velma's older sister, Jewel stayed when the family left. Already married, she kept Velma's baby brother, David, to raise. She died eight years later, in childbirth.

But -- J.D., Carl, Lloyd, Velma, Modene, Rozell, Jess and Dortha -- made the trip.

The family lived in Oklahoma when Velma was born, later Texas. "My dad was a roamer," Velma recalled. "He worked in the oil fields, but during the Depression there wasn't much work to be had."

She began working at 6. "I worked sunup to sundown in the fields, for $1 a day," she said. "We picked cotton, peanuts, maize, all by hand -- there was no machinery back then. I would come in crying. I was in so much pain I could hardly stand, and my mother would say, 'It's just growing pains.' "

Just 13 when her mother died, Velma stopped attending school after eighth grade, becoming a substitute mother to her younger brothers and sisters.

On the trip from Texas, which took a month, "We would stop and eat pork-and-beans and sardines and sleep alongside the road," she said.

When they arrived in Goshen, her father had $50. "He met a man there who said he was working for a local farmer. My dad and my brothers went out to the farm to see if they could find work."

The farm belonged to Dick Scharen's father, and Dick was the first person they saw: "I was going up to milk the cows, and her dad said to me that he understood we might have work pretty soon. I said, yes, we would have work in the filbert nursery before long." Her father got a job.

Dick and two of his brothers were the same ages as two of her brothers, and from that day on, "We all horsed around together," Velma said.

Courtship consisted of "dates" on which the young couple were invariably accompanied by several of Velma's younger brothers and sisters. Her family was thrilled by the match.

"They all loved him," she said. "I turned 15 on Dec. 19, and we decided I was old enough to get married. So we got married on Christmas."

Her wedding day "was wonderful," Velma said. A minister married them in his living room. The newlyweds spent their wedding night at the home of one of Dick's married brothers. "They slept in the attic, and so did we," Velma said. "They hung a blanket in the middle, and they had one side, and we had the other."

Dick and Velma raised her younger siblings. "My sister who is now 81 called us Mom and Dad," Velma said. "She didn't even remember our mother."

It was six months after the ceremony before they could afford to have a wedding portrait taken.

The Scharens had no children until 1946 -- "We already had raised a lot of kids," they both say.

Soon after World War II began, Dick enlisted in the Navy and was gone three years in the South Pacific -- Tarawa, Marshall Islands and Gilbert Islands -- where he flew missions on a PBM torpedo plane as a radioman navigator or gunner. "He never came back the whole time he was in the Navy," Velma said.

Life improved after the war ended. In addition to farming, Dick ran a hardware store in Goshen. Velma kept the books.

Remembering that long-ago Christmas wedding, Dick chuckled. "I didn't have any presents to give," he said. "I guess I was the present." That worked both ways, Velma agreed.

Both consider their 75 years together a great gift. "I would do it all again," Velma said. Dick nodded.


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