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In 1943, World War II cast a shadow over daily life. People were always saying goodbye. But Leslie Johnson and Lillian Bloom had each other. They were sweethearts at Chisago Lakes High School and would meet at the back of the school bus so they could hold hands.
The connection they had was special. They knew then. They still know now.
On September 29, Les and Lil, residents at Ecumen Parmly LifePointes in Chisago City, celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.
They were married in 1945 in Corpus Christi, Texas. Les was a Navy pilot stationed there. He invited Lil to come for a visit and surprised her with a marriage proposal. “I knew he was the guy,” Lil says.
What is their secret for staying together 70 years?
“Our secret is our faith,” Lil says matter-of-factly. Lil and Les pray together every day and have built their life and family on the foundation of their faith.
“It’s a wonderful life that way,” says Lil. “Not that we haven’t been tested.”
Les nods, and responds with a verse from Proverbs: “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.”
Their path together started in those war years which Lil remembers as “hard years” because so many young men were leaving for the service. “I remember always feeling sadness when I went by the train depot,” she recalls. Two of her brothers and two brothers-in-law went to war. Les had a brother — a Navy pilot — who died in the war. Les enlisted in the Navy when he was 18 and started pilot training.
Shortly after they got married, their path brought them to the Twin Cities. After Les finished his Navy duty, he worked a couple of years as a crop-duster, then he got his dream job as a Northwest Airlines pilot. “It was a wonderful job. I didn’t want to leave.” He had to retire at the mandatory age of 60 but says even now when a plane flies over “it’s like music.”
Les and Lil lived in Minnetonka, Minn., and raised five children. In their retirement, they returned to the area where they grew up. “There is so much going on here,” says Les, “and everyone supports each other.”
Lil is 91, and Les is 90. “I’m much younger than she is,” he jokes.
They still have fun teasing each other. Says Lil: “He’s always looking at the newspaper obituaries to see if his name is there.” Les laughs, explaining that he had a rough bout with cancer but is now in remission.
Lil enjoys playing the piano at social events. “Music is good therapy,” she says.
Together they like playing cribbage and bridge. “I let her win,” says Les.
Their son Dan says when he Googled famous people who have been married 70 years, the only hit he got was George and Barbara Bush. Les likes the comparison because Bush was a Navy pilot also.
Les says he never had a close call as an airline pilot, but Lil reminds him of the time an ambulance met him on the tarmac. Les was flying as the captain when he started to feel strange and asked the copilot to take over. Then he started rambling, offering a few choice swear words. “Les Johnson never cusses,” the co-pilot told the first officer. “Call an ambulance.”
The ambulance met the plane and took the protesting captain to the hospital, where doctors found a blocked artery in his neck. The problem was quickly fixed, but Les had to fight for three years to get his job back. “They kept taking all kinds of pictures of my head,” he recalls.
“He just never gave up,” says Lil. “That’s who he is.”
Lil and Les joyfully share their memories and pictures of their family, and constantly express their gratitude for the path they have been shown. “We believe He lives in us, that He is right here in this room with us,” says Lil. Les nods in agreement.
There is absolutely no doubt. And that’s how you have 70 years together.