NAPLES, Fla. – Juanita and Owen Henning can think of a few reasons to celebrate this Valentine’s Day. Seventy-one reasons, in fact.
The 89-year-olds have been together for 71 years since they married on Feb. 5, 1949.
“I still sort of like him from when I first saw him,” Juanita Henning said.
And how did they meet? As freshmen in Latimer, Iowa. Their class had 11 people, in total. She fancied him, and he must have fancied her back because four years later, they were married.
Juanita wrote her story across two pages of notebook paper, front and back. Her tiny cursive scrawl tells the story of their family: Latimer had about 400 people in it, a number that hasn’t changed much in the decades since they met. When they married, they moved into a farm tenant house. Their home was full of secondhand appliances, and they still used an outhouse and a wringer-style washing machine.
In their second home, most of Juanita Henning’s days began at 6 a.m. when she made breakfast and packed a lunch for Owen, who worked for his father’s construction company. She became a mother to two children, a girl and a boy, and Juanita remembers the joy she felt when they got a dryer for her children’s cloth diapers.
“Life was good being in a small town where you never locked your doors and kids played freely all over until dinnertime,” Juanita wrote.
Their horizons quickly expanded: a poodle named “Fi-Fi” entered their lives, their son graduated from college and Owen stepped back from the construction industry to focus on selling grain handling systems. Owen and Juanita would eventually travel the world.
Once their parents died, they decided to move to Marco Island, Florida. They lived there for a few decades before they eventually moved to Vi at Bentley Village in Naples, where they remain. Owen stays in the assisted living facility, and Juanita visits him for hours every day.
Neither really have pet peeves with one another.
“I could do worse, and you could do better,” Owen said to his wife recently. “We came up in a small town where we kind of made do.”
Maybe “making do” isn’t quite accurate — 71 years seems more impressive than that. And apparently, it rubbed off. Both their son and daughter have been married for several decades, too.
Jeff Henning, their son, said his parents set an excellent example for him.
“They’ve been a pair, peas in a pod, as long as I’ve known them,” he said. “Sometimes opposites attract. Consequently, the two of them made a pretty strong pair in the process.”
He said he was impressed by the strength it took for his parents to grow together, and he’s happy he’s been able to learn from them.
“It shows great commitment on both sides. It shows compromise,” Jeff Henning said.
Juanita and Owen Henning didn’t have much advice to give on the secret to a long relationship, nor did they presume to know all the answers.
But Juanita shared the best advice she had heard, from the preacher that married her and Owen: “For better or worse.”
Follow Andrew Atkins on Twitter: @andrewjatkins.