LouClare explains: “My parents named me Louclair. That’s a man’s name. I changed the spelling in grade school to LouClare.” Somebody should check and see how she spelled her name on the dotted line on the marriage license and certificate. Maybe she left herself an “out” and is waiting to see if it works.
Though only a small example of the feisty nature of this hardworking family woman, it exemplifies the can-do attitude that gets a couple to their diamond anniversary; a milestone reached by only a thousand or so couples each year in the United States.
At 92 (LouClare) and 96 (Clinton), this pair no longer puts in the long hours of farming, cutting cord wood, gardening and antiquing that generated the income for their family of six children. But when they got together back in the late 1930s, life wasn’t easy and hard work was the norm.
LouClare and Clinton met in front of a store in Eagle Bend. A mutual friend introduced them. At the time, each was living and working on their parent’s farm. LouClare had just graduated from high school when the two got married in a small church in Wrightstown, a place not much larger than a dot on the map, west of Bertha.
LouClare clearly remembers their wedding day. “It was beautiful weather. For our honeymoon, we went to a lake north of Bemidji. We fished every day. We had a tent and rented a boat that we had to bail water out of. We paid for the boat by the hour and then the guy wanted to charge us by the minute. When we were ready to leave, he wanted more money than we had. We talked him out of it and had enough to buy gas to get home.”
Clinton is sure to agree with LouClare’s story though these days he’s pretty quiet. He still gets around, with assistance, but his years are showing. LouClare walks with a cane, and daughters Betty Brekke and Bonnie Benning, who live nearby, admonish her not to go downstairs anymore. She might listen, but then again, there’s that independent streak that’s kept her going all these years.
She picks up the thread of their story. “We moved to Ottertail County, just west of Eagle Bend. We rented a small house, and Clinton’s sister and her husband moved in with us.”
LouClare admits it was tight quarters, but times were hard. Just coming out of the dust bowl years and a major economic depression, they had only a couple of years before World War II broke out. Yet, for the two of them, those years established a lifelong habit of hard work and improvement. They were able to buy 80 acres near Mud Lake and build a house. They acquired cows, pigs and chickens. Lacking a barn, they milked cows outside.
“We started with seven or eight cows. One of them put her foot in the pail every time I milked her,” says LouClare, along with a suggestion of what she wanted to do to the beast at the time.
There was also a momentous solar eclipse, LouClare remembers. “The moon covered the sun. It got pretty dark,” she says. Perhaps that was the 13 ½ minute total eclipse on July 9, 1945.
The Johnsons augmented their farm income by cutting and selling cord wood. “The school, creamery, even filling stations all burned wood. We’d cut it, stack it and then deliver it to town. We’d even cut it up more if they wanted. We made enough one year to buy a new tractor, a plow and cultivator.”
Over the next few years, they added another hundred acres to their property but when a guy offered them good money for their farm, they took it.
“We moved here on Dec. 16, 1946. I remember the date because it was my folks’ anniversary,” says LouClare, who by then had 5-year old Carol and baby Kenny who was only 9 months old. “Mom kept Kenny and Clinton took the first load of cattle to the barn here while I packed.” The new place was just south of Eagle Bend. Clinton’s parents had rented the property prior to the young couple buying it.
Their family grew to include Larry, Betty, Bonnie and Beverly (Dolezal) in addition to Carol (Kramer) and Kenneth. They acquired more land, eventually reaching a total of 620 acres. They added on to the barn four times, tore down the old house, built a new one, and added on to it as they could afford it.
Betty and Bonnie remember milking 54 cows when it was their jobs to wash the cows and carry the milk. Bonnie built a good set of muscles and became somewhat of an arm-wrestling champion.
“Remember that one cent milk check?” asks Betty.
“Yes, we still have that upstairs somewhere,” answers LouClare.
“I guess they were wealthy enough not to cash it,” laughs Betty.
As a self-described workaholic family, the Johnsons also knew how to have fun, and laughter and hugs were frequent. If the kids squabbled, they were sent to the garden to weed. When Clinton asked Betty for a shovel and she told him she wasn’t going that way, he quickly altered her path.
Clinton and LouClare wintered in Texas for 35 years. In the summer of 1988, they had an auction and sold their herd of 74 dairy cows. At that point, LouClare had milked cows for more than 60 years. It was assumed that Clinton would handle the field work while LouClare and the kids milked morning and night.
After the cows were gone, the Johnson’s ran an antique business out of their barn for about 10 years.
Clinton broke a toe in the early years, showing off to his new bride by trying to ride a heifer. She wouldn’t move so he called the dog to encourage her. She got moving, bucking Clinton off in the process. He also suffered a serious hand injury when his brother wielded an axe during their wood cutting days and accidently split Clinton’s hand between two knuckles.
LouClare was struck by lightning, twice. The first time she was unhitching the tractor when the electric bolt hit the barn, blowing a couple of holes in the roof. The electricity passed through the ground to her, leaving her a-tingle and her shoes in shreds.
The second time she was doing dishes at the kitchen sink when a tree in the yard was hit. “Electricity travels through water, you know,” she says, remembering the jolt she felt when the lightning traveled from the tree into the house.
The biggest shock, though, was when lung cancer claimed Carol in 2000. “That was really hard,” says her mother.
The family has grown to include 19 grandchildren, 35 great-grandchildren and two great-greats. The local ones gather at Verndale’s Bull’s Eye Café once a month. It’s centrally located for the families and doesn’t have steps so it’s easier to help Clinton and LouClare in and out.
LouClare still enjoys her many collections (plates, butter churns, spoons, pickle castors, and more) though she’s willing to part with her Blue Danube dishes, a service for 24 which includes individual gravy boats, napkin rings and Irish coffee cups. While the kids were at home, she sewed all of their clothes and still pieces quilts. She’s made one for each of the kids and many more.
Clinton’s only real pastimes were farming and working though he got into the flea markets and antiques and amassed a collection of BB guns starting with the first one he got at age 9.
“I’m not planning anything for our anniversary,” says LouClare. “I hope the girls are,” she adds with a twinkle.
Of course the girls are, but it will be a simple gathering at the park. They had a big celebration for their 70th.
As to advice on how to have a long happy marriage, LouClare says, “It just happened.” Then she adds that it’s good for a woman to let her husband win the arguments, though they didn’t have many over the years. In typical LouClare fashion she added, “A good marriage is made by a bossy woman and a man who can take it.”