Browns Valley couple reaches milestone anniversary
Their romance started at the Red Star Cafe in Fairfax where Sylvester worked. Sally, a Fairfax native, was a regular customer, and the two soon started conversing over coffee and lunches.
Sylvester was one of 15 children born to a St. Leo farm couple, said the 97-year-old. When he was 15, Sylvester began working for other farmers. A cousin told him about a seasonal farm job in Fairfax. He made the move, and when the work ended, he got a job at the cafe.
Sally, 93, had a variety of jobs in her hometown, from babysitting for 25 cents a night to assisting people with homemaking duties, parties and events.
Times were tough as the country was coming out of the Depression, Sylvester said. The bank offered a movie theater special. If people bought a ticket, they would earn the chance of winning $100. They might not win the big prize, but the two had tickets for a movie date. Sally remembers they saw South of the Border on their first date.
“Then one leap year, I got tired of running, so I married her in 1940,” Sylvester said with a smile.
Sylvester’s parents moved to the Browns Valley area and encouraged the newly married couple to do the same. They did, and the two purchased a 240-acre farm. Sylvester milked 34 cows and raised crops. The farm was also where they raised their five children – JoAnne, deceased; Ruth of Browns Valley; James of Texas; Helen of New Ulm and Margaret Wilson from Missouri..
They smile as the two tell stories of how the kids rode horse. Their son, James, did tricks on the horse, and their daughters learned how to stand on its back as it trotted down the driveway.
She recalls Sylvester’s promise to buy a bike if some of the field work was finished by a certain time. Sylvester found Sally and the kids waiting in the car when he’d finished his work. They weren’t leaving anything to chance. They drove to town, purchased one bike, and when they got home, spent hours watching their kids ride the bike. One would ride to one building and another would ride it back.
Sylvester’s background was in farming, but he had a passion for carpentry. He often helped neighbors build a garage or help with a construction project.
When the couple’s son-in-law offered to buy the farm in 1964, Sylvester was thrilled. He’d just won a construction bid for an addition to the town’s bowling alley. The move from the farm also meant he had to build a home for his family in Browns Valley.
It was stressful, but he did it, Sylvester said. The family lived in a mobile home for awhile, but they were able to sell it when their house was completed.
They were once avid bowlers and golfers, but they’ve given up those sports as they’ve slowed their pace. They remain quite active in the community.
Instead of big construction projects, Sylvester now works on smaller items. His wood items – chairs, cutting boards, wooden pliers made from a single piece of wood and wooden chains – are sold at the town’s flea market and a few local venues as well, he said. Sylvester has also made several of the wooden chairs and tables on the couple’s deck.
Sally plays bridge with friends two days a week and, every Friday, volunteers at the local nursing home.
Their children don’t want Sylvester driving the family car anymore, but he still gets around. He drives a golf cart he purchased along the town’s back streets to get the couple’s mail and visit friends, he said.
They’ve been through thick and thin.
In 2007 their home, built by Sylvester in the mid-1960s, was damaged by floodwaters. The water came up 4 feet on their main floor, Sally said.
Like other Browns Valley families on March 15, 2007, the Homans were evacuated.
“It was 1 a.m. on March 15 when they came to evacuate us,” said 93-year-old Sally of the flood. “I remember when we opened the front door to be evacuated and an ice chunk came in the house, I threw it out. I don’t know why I did that. It was just one chunk of ice.”
Floodwaters reached 4 feet in the structure destroying many family photos.
Once the flood dissipated, Sylverster was ready to move somewhere else..
“But Sally insisted we come back,” he said.
Sylvester, who was in his early 90s at the time, used his carpentry skills to rebuild the home with the help of family.
A few years earlier, in 2004, they traveled to Missouri for the funeral of their son-in-law. On their return trip, one of the couple’s daughters, JoAnne, suffered a heart attack and died.
“We buried a son-in-law and a daughter in one week,” she said. “That was the worst.”
There have also been many happy times for the two including family weddings, births and town celebrations.
Sylvester shows a picture of the couple in younger days. It was taken during the town’s centennial. Sylvester has a full beard in the photo, and Sally is dressed in a blouse and long skirt with a bonnet over her head.
“Our daughter was getting married and said I had to cut it off if I was going to walk her down the aisle,” he said. “I told her no. I’d been growing those whiskers for the town celebration for over six months, and the event was just a few months away. She’d have to take me with the beard. She did.”
Sally mentions a celebration that will take place this summer in Browns Valley to celebrate the special occasion. But she’s not supposed to know the details.
“The kids just say, ‘Oh mom, you don’t have to know,’” she says with a smile.
Joining them will be their 26 biological and three stepgrandchildren. And they are now up to 65 great-grandchildren with several great- greats, she said.
Chances are they will be adding another plate to their anniversary collection before the end of supper. Joining other anniversary plates commemorating their 50th and 60th wedding anniversaries might be one for their 75th. And they can’t wait to celebrate with family and friends.