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Just a Kid at Heart: A lengthy first date

By Steve Maanum

February may be considered the ‘Month of Love’ and like millions of others, Deb and I will celebrate Valentine’s Day. Then, before the month is over, we will continue the celebration with her birthday and with our 95th anniversary. Yes, you read it correctly. I said we will celebrate our 95th anniversary. Maybe I should back up a minute to explain.

We met in college (obviously many years ago). I had noticed her on campus, but we had never talked until one March evening when I saw her walk past my dorm window. Assuming she was going to the library to study, I grabbed my books and decided I had an urgent need to study in the library, too. I ran to catch up with her and initiated a little conversation. When we arrived at the library, she went to the second floor to study and I continued up to the third floor to plan my strategy. Studying wasn’t really on my mind.

Steve and Deb Maanum of Park Rapids on their wedding day back in the mid 1970s . Photo by Portraits by Dave

About an hour later I just happened to find myself on the second floor, where I accidently stumbled onto her location. I smiled and asked how it was going. Then, after a few minutes of exchanging comments I finally got around to asking her out. Our recollection of that moment varies somewhat, even to this day. She said I was so nervous that I stammered and stuttered a bit. My recollection is that I played the role of a shy, young college kid. Was it nervousness or an act of innocence? Actually, maybe it was a combination of both.

I do remember that she surprised me by saying yes without any hesitation - that’s my version and I’m sticking to it. Evidently I was so surprised that I walked away without even getting her name or telephone number. She smiled when I reappeared a few minutes later to ask, “By the way, what’s your name and how do I get a hold of you?”

The next evening I picked her up in the lobby of her dorm and we hopped into my ’57 Chevy. The A&W had recently opened after the long northern Minnesota winter and as we sat sipping our root beers, we talked, laughed, and got to know each other.

Sometimes I think of our life together as one big, long and eventful first date that hasn’t ended yet. It’s kind of like a progressive dinner where each course is served at a different time in a different location. There’s always a mystery and excitement of not knowing what will be served up next.

Three months after we met, I graduated from college and went home for the summer to paint houses like I had done for the previous four summers. Deb stayed in Bemidji to work. We were 180 miles apart and because it was decades before the development of cell phones, emails and text messages, our means of communicating was in the form of letter writing and occasional long distance telephone calls. Of course, every time I finished a paint job my ’57 Chevy and I headed north.

When the summer ended, I packed up and moved to Thief River Falls, where I would begin my first teaching job.

That fall was spent splitting time between getting to know my students and getting to know Deb. There were many weekend trips to Bemidji and as our relationship grew, Deb decided to join me after fall quarter. She moved to Thief River, and that February we were quietly married in the Lutheran Church. We kept it a secret from family and friends while we planned our wedding at Itasca State Park in the spring.

I remember announcing to Deb’s parents that we were planning an outside wedding. Her mom’s reaction expressed concern. In fact, she said that we had to get married in God’s house. Without meaning any disrespect I reminded her that nature was God’s house.

The staff at Itasca State Park mowed an aisle and a circle around the huge white pine behind Douglas Lodge and they set out all the chairs for our guests. The ceremony was performed by the same minister who had married us in the church three months earlier. Forest Inn was used for our reception and we still make a point to visit it each May.

As a result of both marriages, we celebrate twice each year and so this year will be our 95th and 96th anniversaries. The vows that we repeated – “For better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health” were not just words. They were a promise; a lifelong commitment that we made to each other.

Forty-eight years ago and 95 anniversaries ago we had no idea where life would take us. We moved to Park Rapids in 1976 and have lived just 20 miles from Itasca State Park ever since. In the summer of 1977 we built our first house. Someone once said, “If you want to test your marriage, just build a house.” Well, we went through that process three times in 10 years. Our third house was the home where we spent the last 33 years. It was the home in which our two kids grew from their elementary years through high school and college. It was our home when each of them got married and when they were both introduced to parenthood. The yard was filled with huge Norway pines which reminded us of Itasca. We had terrific neighbors, and a variety of wildlife visited us on a regular basis. Our progressive meal served many courses during those years. Each one was accompanied with excitement, joy and a little mystery. The house’s four levels gave us the opportunity to spread out when the kids had friends over, but as we have aged the thoughts of downsizing and having everything on one level caused us to consider building one more time. At the end of October we moved into our new one-level home.

Deb and I have been blessed in many ways and we have so much to be thankful for. Our two children made it easy for us to be parents, even through their teenage years. They have always been kind and considerate individuals with goal-oriented work ethics, so it was no surprise when they each found the perfect partner to help them create their own family memories. They have given us five very talented grandchildren who are each thoughtful, caring and perfect in our eyes.

So, what is it that brings two people together? Is it fate, is it luck or is it destiny? Is there one right person for each of us? I can’t speak for others, but I know that Deb was, is and always will be the right person for me. Happy 95th Anniversary, Honey. May we enjoy many more courses of our progressive dinner together before our first date draws to a close.

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