Willmar couple recently celebrated 69 years of marriage
By PATRICIA BUSCHETTE
Dody and George Davies of Willmar, Minn., celebrated their 69th wedding anniversary on Aug. 22, 2022. And the couple has been able to pack in a lot in those 69 years.
It all started in 1949 when Dody Novotny was a high school student in Montgomery, Minnesota, and George attended high school at St. Peter. They participated in a contest as soloists. Later, after George’s participation in a male quartet, Dody, quite out of practice for a young woman at that time, wrote a congratulatory note to him. “I thought he was so sweet,” Dody said. “I told him that I intended to attend St. Catherine’s. I signed my letter, ‘Your friend in music.’”
They both remembered that it was a green and yellow 1931 Chevy Coupe that got them through their courtship. Following their wedding in Montgomery Minnesota, the two drove 6 and a half hours to get to the Novotny family cottage on McAvity Lake near Grand Rapids, Minn.
George Davies taught English speech and research in Willmar. He recalled a research assignment he` gave to his students to be written on a subject of their choice. One student chose to research the Shroud of Turin. George was able to separate his personal philosophy from his role as a teacher, and that while he didn’t believe that the cloth was the shroud of Jesus Christ, her project was the finest. “I didn’t believe the analysis,” he said, “but hers was the best.”
Dody’s lifetime passion is the composition and performance of music and it started, as she said, “when I was told I didn’t know how to write music."
“I come from a very musical family,” she explained. “My sister was trained for the grand opera.”
An incident in a basic composition class set the stage. “The other girls in the class got an A and I got a B. My classmates protested that their music all sounded the same, while mine sounded fresh.” The instructors explanation has guided Dody’s life. The instructor said “Dody is breaking the rules.”
Dody has continued to break the rules and music, and in other areas of her life. During the social turbulence of the 1970s, she met two nuns who introduced her to Christian feminism. “I came to understand the uneven treatment of women in society, and if I did not do something constructive with my anger, it would destroy me,” she said. It was at a retreat for women in ministry entitled “Women from a Global Perspective” when Sr. Kay O’Neill charged participants to identify a gift that God gave to each of us.
“I asked, ‘God, could I do something with song?’’’ With the composition of “Women of the World,” she was on her way to writing more than 80 songs. “Each one is different,” she said. Dody remembers a recommendation in a grant application made by the musical director at St. Mary’s in Willmar – “Dody’s music defines categorization.”
Her faith in herself was reinforced when, at a workshop she noticed one of the women in the audience was crying, so moved with her message. At the end of the workshop the woman approached her, introduced herself and said “We are going to do something more with your music.” She introduced me to Mark Haen and his sound studio in Olivia.
Dody remembered walking into the recording studio with all the equipment.
“I said to myself, ‘Dody you don’t belong here.’ Another part of me said, ‘Oh, yes you do.’ Mark became a supportive friend and every week I brought a new song to the studio. I recorded eight cassettes.”
Dody’s innate sense of social justice brought her to the confrontation of female employees and Citizens National Bank in Willmar. These women went on strike on Dec. 16, 1977, charging sex discrimination. Not only was there unequal pay, but female employees were tasked with teaching male employees. One woman related that it was necessary to explain to a male employee the difference between a debit and a credit. They set up a picket when temperatures were frigid and the windchill was -70°F.
“While I was not gainfully employed, I marched with the Willmar 8.” Dody explained. “The Christian Gospel was clear to me. What would Jesus do? He would be on picket line for equal treatment. It wasn’t an easy task. There was little community support. She related that men drove by, rolled down their windows, and hurled epithets and insults. We picketed for over a year, and while not successful, the group is a part of history.”
One of the strikers told Dody, “Dody, I wish there was 1,000 of you.”
For both George and Dody, service remains an important part of their lives. For several years they have gone to supermarkets to pick up donated food that is close to the expiration date. “Stores donate baked and canned goods – whatever they have, and we transport it to the food shelf,” George explained.
“We are children of the Great Depression,” Dody added. “We grew up in families where nothing is wasted.”
George’s gift as an educator continued and he taught young people safety with firearms, snowmobile, and 4-wheelers through a high school program. He has organized a Junior Sportsmen club that constructed wood duck houses in local woods, fields, and sloughs.
Traveling has been an important part of the Davies’ life experience, and they have traveled extensively in unique parts of the world. “My best memory of travel was motorcycling across Africa with our daughter, Cathy,” George said. “When we got to Cape Town. Cathy said, ‘Where are we going next, Pops?’ I facetiously suggested Antarctica.”
In 2005, George and Dody along with their daughter and son-in-law boarded a Russian research vessel that was bound for Antarctica. The friendly and accommodating Russian captain didn’t speak English, nor did most of the crew. “The Captain would maneuver the big boat so we could get photos of whales over the bow!’ George explained. “One time he stuck the bow into the ice, put down the gangway and, we walked unto the Antarctic Ocean, in frozen form, of course.”
“The penguins didn’t understand and they gathered around us!” he said. The goal was to go across the Antarctic Circle and the Captain attempted to get through the ice. “When we did so, the Captain tooted the horn and we had champagne.”
An important part of George and Dody’s travel is from their home in Willmar to McAvity Lake near Grand Rapids. This place, described by Dody as her “healing place,” was built in the mid-1950s. A small snug cottage, it has retained many of its original characteristics but with 70 years of upgrades.
In 2005 their daughter Cathy and son-in-law Larry built their cabin just 350 yards from Dody and George. They purchased a 23’ pontoon dubbed “Lily Pad.” “This year we went on more rides than ever before.” George said.
One of the important aspects of their time spent at their summer home is the planning, planting, caring for, and harvesting of many garden crops. Together, they ticked off the varieties of garden crops found in their garden. “We grow sweet corn, green beans, yellow wax beans, purple wax beans, broccoli, red beets, carrots, tomatoes, romaine, celery, and winter squash. Much of the summer squash goes to the local food shelf,” Dody said. There are also chives, parsley, rosemary, thyme, potatoes, and three varieties of onions. In addition to food donated to the food shelf, they can and freeze vegetables. This year they froze 23 pints of corn.
Also harvested each year is the annual Christmas tree. George looks over the trees on their property and each year he chooses one tree that is topped – this year from a 70-foot spruce. The top is put in water and brought back to Willmar where it is kept in cold storage until Thanksgiving when it is ceremoniously put in place and decorated.
Now that winter is approaching, George is thinking about his snowmobiling hobby. “Last year was biggy,” he said. “I loaded the snowmobile and made 53 trips out of town, riding to Spicer and beyond. It was enjoyable to stop and notice wildlife, to see a bird in a tree or a rabbit. I go out simply to enjoy myself.”
Community service continues while the two are in Willmar. “During the pandemic in 2020, I helped direct traffic.” George said. “In 2020, I supervised traffic to the Covid clinic. I was on the corner in rain, snow, and wind. I stood so long, I couldn’t walk. My hips said, ‘You done it, boy!’”
George and Dody’s life is enhanced by their children. Cathy and Allen. Cathy and her husband Larry, who live near Atlanta, Georgia spend summers at McAvity Lake at their nearby cabin. Allen and his wife Kari live in Spring Lake Park. Their granddaughter, Kaitlyn is a singer and performer, and is studying music education.
Having celebrated 69 years of marriage, George and Dody agree that it’s absolutely essential to have a sense of humor. “Without a sense of humor, we wouldn’t have lasted a day!” Dody said.