BY PAUL MARYNIAK
John Vandenhuerk didn’t lose a step when asked about the key to a long and happy marriage.
“Just say ‘Yes, Dear’ a lot,” the Chandler man said, quickly adding, “But she said ‘OK’ a lot, too.”
The formula has worked for John and Bennie Lou Vandenhuerk – for seven decades.
The couple, both 89, celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary on March 26th with a luncheon with family and friends following the Sunday service at Faith Church in Chandler.
As well-wishers surrounded them, John looked back at Bennie and sighed, “It went by awfully quick, that 70 years. We’ve had some great times.”
They met in 1946 as 18-year-olds on a train in California. He was heading to report for duty at the U.S. Naval base in Santa Barbara and she was heading to her home in Southern California.
“Trains in those days stopped at every little town, so it was a long ride,” he recalled. “So, we talked. And then she gave me her phone number.”
A few weeks later, John, an Alabama native, had a few days’ leave and nothing to do, so he called her.
She invited him for a visit.
“My father canceled his plans so he could meet this sailor who was visiting his daughter,” Bennie said.
What followed were five months of letter writing while he was stationed in Guam.
Then, on a five-day leave, he and Bennie went to Yuma because California required a three-day wait on a marriage license for a blood test.
And on March 26th, 1947, their 70-year romance began, leading to two sons and two daughters – and, eventually, seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
They didn’t bother renewing their vows last weekend – they did that at the halfway point of their marriage as they celebrated their 35th anniversary on the Love Boat.
Indeed, while they were all dressed up for the celebration at Faith Church, Bennie said she was thinking, “How nice it will be to get back home and into my old duds.”
John is a retired power plant engineer for General Motors who oversaw an operation that produced electricity and compressed air to run tools and machines. Bennie worked at an upholstery and drapery shop that was owned by a friend.
The Vandenhuerks’ oldest daughter, Jonna Harness, said her parents “have always been ‘can-do’ types of people.”
“Each of them was handy,” Harness said. “Dad could fix anything, and my artistic mother was always amazing at decorating and sewing. Although our family surely did not have a lot of money, Mom and Dad were industrious and were able to provide extras for the family through building things with their own hands.”
He took an early retirement in 1988 to care for some ailing family members and, five years later, they moved from California to Chandler to be close to their daughter.
Both are active in the church, and he served for several years as a chaplain for the American Legion and then became a financial officer for the organization.
The Vandenhuerks’ devotion to each other has always been visible, said Harness. “One thing I observed as I grew up in our home was that Mom and Dad
thoroughly enjoyed being together,” she said. “They talked a lot, shared everything and loved to laugh. They were always active in various churches no matter where they were living and inevitably grew close to people around them. Socializing and providing support for one another within social groups was – and continues to be – important to them.”