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Finding love in the winter years

Park Rapids couple found love in their 70s, have now been married 17 years

By Vivian (Makela) Sazama

At nearly 80 years of age, Cliff Sawyer asked Doris Klingenberg, 73, for her hand in marriage. She said “yes,” and the Park Rapids couple has now been married for 17 years. Doris, now 90, and Cliff, 97, have thoroughly enjoyed their companionship, and truly cherish each day together.

Cliff had been widowed for a year and a half, and Doris for 28 years, when the two first started dating.

Cliff and Doris were married about 17 years ago when Cliff was 79 and Doris was 73. The two live in Park Rapids. Photo by Vivian Sazama

“I was content and happy with my life,” said Doris. “I was busy with my children and grandchildren, my church, and had a Watkins business for 25 years. But my daughter thought I should consider this gentleman in my church whom I had gotten to know when we were both tellers for the Sunday offerings. We hit it off and had a lot of fun.”

“I was happy she would marry me, considering I was almost 80, and we might have just a few years together. Because of that, we decided to celebrate our anniversary every month. We’re up to 200 now!” he laughed.

Cliff was born and grew up in the Twin Cities area, but his family has long ties to Park Rapids.

“My mother’s parents, Marshall and Ella Leavitt, homesteaded in Green Valley Township southwest of Park Rapids, and my mother was the first white child born there,” he said.

Cliff’s mother graduated from Teacher’s School and taught at a country school on the north shore of Big Sand Lake.

“Mother would have one of the older boys in the school row her across the lake. She would then walk into Dorset and take the train into Park Rapids where grandfather picked her up for the weekend in the wagon.”

His mother taught for about five years before marrying Cliff’s father. They then moved to the Twin Cities. His dad’s father, Charles Sawyer, logged off an area near Mantrap and Potato Lakes, then also moved to the Twin Cities and started a lumberyard in North Minneapolis together with another gentleman, a Mr. Cleator. They ran the Sawyer-Cleator Lumber Company from 1904 to the 1920’s, until Charles retired and Cliff’s father took the business over.

“My dad died when I was three years old, so my mother and my oldest brother then ran the business,” he said. “My mother continued to go down to the office until she was in her 80s,” he said.

Cliff attended the Pillsbury Military Academy boarding school in Owatonna for three years during high school. “I guess my mother figured it would be good for me since my dad had died when I was so young, and my older brothers were out of the house by then, and I was alone there with my mother and my grandmother,” he said. “World War II was going on at the time, but I was exempted from going to war due to health problems,” he said.

After high school, Cliff graduated from college with an engineering degree and worked in that field for several years before getting married to his first wife, Phyllis. “Then the position I had wasn’t working out so I went back to the lumberyard. As it turned out my brother passed away at the age of 44, so they were happy I was there and I could step into some of the management at the lumberyard,” he said. “Management wasn’t something I really wanted, but it all worked out.”

Over the years, Cliff’s mother bought out the other heir’s share of the family lot on Potato Lake and built a cabin. “It was a great place to go as a teenager,” said Cliff. “We had a flat-bottomed boat and would take it fishing and sometimes go to town in it. At that time, there were locks in between the lakes.”

In later years, Cliff’s brother, who also worked at the lumberyard for a time, began building a house across the property from the cabin, but passed away in 1980 before it was finished.

Cliff and Doris on their wedding day, June 17, 2005. Contributed photo

“Phyllis and I reworked the plans and finished building the house and vacationed there whenever we could get away,” he said. “Then we moved there permanently after I retired in 1990,” he said. In recent years, they then wintered in their present apartment home and continued to spend the rest of the year at their lake home, but now have sold the house.

Doris was born in Swanville, west of Little Falls. Her husband, Martin Klingenberg, was an ag teacher at several schools before accepting a position at Park Rapids. He was well known and the couple were very active in the community.

Together Doris and Martin had a son and three daughters. Cliff and Phyllis had two sons.

“When Doris and I decided to get married, Doris’ children weren’t surprised and encouraged us, because they lived in the area and knew me,” said Cliff. “My sons lived in the Twin Cities though, and it was quite a shock for them to hear their dad was getting married again. They didn’t know anything about Doris and were concerned. But it all turned out alright.”

Cliff and Doris were married at their church, Faithbridge Baptist, on July 17, 2005, with their whole family standing up for them.

“We had to take premarital instruction first,” said Doris. “We learned a lot about what to do and what not to do,” she said.

When thinking about what has made their marriage work, Doris said, “We did fun things, and we still do. I taught Cliff how to play the card game, Hand and Foot, which he still plays. We went to a lot of my grandchildren’s sporting events and activities. We’ll fix special meals. It’s been good,” she said with a smile.

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