Helen and Don Keyes celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary earlier this year and continue living in their own home.  SUBMITTED PHOTO
Helen and Don Keyes celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary earlier this year and continue living in their own home. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Don and Helen Keyes of Wykoff have reached a unique milestone in their marriage. The couple celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary earlier this year. Their love story began more than 75 years ago and continues to today, where the couple remains in their own home.

Their story begins in the 1940s when the world was facing one of the rockiest periods in its history. As a child, Don had lost his mother when he was a mere 6-1/2 years old, so he and his family were raised by his grandparents.

Coming from Strongs Prairie, Wis., his brother arrived in Wykoff to find employment. Don followed later, with some encouragement, in the spring of 1939 when he was just 18. One of the first people he met after he arrived was Helen's aunt. While he searched for a more permanent position, Don received a phone call from a family in Wykoff. For a few years he remained with that family and attended St. John's Lutheran Church with them.

Don was confirmed in May 1940 and soon after had an interesting meeting with Helen. She had grown up just a few miles outside of Wykoff and even knew how to drive.

"She was 15. A week after I was confirmed, I pulled Helen out of a tree and we talked a while," Don said.

After that encounter, Helen invited him to join a Christian group of young people, the Walter League, for some fun activities like roller-skating.

Life grew a little more complicated as a "little" thing called World War II got in the way. Don took some correspondence courses, hoping to find a job manufacturing aircraft, but had no birth certificate. So he landed a job at a cemetery until he was drafted in January of 1942.

During the war, he and Helen began exchanging letters. As they did, their friendship developed into something a bit more.

"She was in school in Mankato and I would take furloughs to go see her. One time I got a furlough, took her to Wisconsin and gave her a ring," Don noted.

They made plans to get married in June 1945. Helen took a year to teach third and fourth grades in Mankato.

"I had wanted to be a teacher since before school and I had to for at least one year. So I did," Helen said.

Don kept moving from place to place and eventually landed in Sioux Falls, S.D., to be trained in as a cadet instructor in link trainers, or what are called simulators now. He was also learning to be a radioman. Learning Morse code was not an easy task. Helen visited him for Easter and returned home carrying wedding rings.

"I came home with a three day pass for the wedding. I was 30 minutes late getting there, met Helen at the door and we walked down together," Don related.

After the wedding, the couple moved to St. Louis, where Don was stationed. He was discharged in January 1946, and they were finally able to go on a honeymoon in February.

The next challenge came when deciding the next step in their futures. At that time, tens of thousands of servicemen were coming home from the war looking for jobs to earn their living.

"After two weeks on the honeymoon, I was looking for something to do. There were 10,000 GI's looking for jobs and I knew there was a farm for sale down here," Don said.

They took out a GI loan to purchase 120 acres of the farm on County 80, just east of Helen's parents. It proved to be beneficial for any need in borrowing equipment later on. For the first six years on that farm, the couple lived without electricity or insulation, but soon underwent modernizations.

In 1952, Don upgraded to a Grade A dairy farm and built more necessary barns for the cattle.

"Our parlor was one of the first parlors in the county. I was on the Grade A list for 30 years, keeping the milk clean," he described.

Meanwhile, the couple faced their hardships together. At the beginning, Don was not able to get off his military base more than once during the week.

"I wasn't really happy with that, but I found officers would hire a maid, so I applied. I worked for the colonel and his sister," Helen commented.

After the birth of their first child, they lost four sons in rapid succession. At the advice of their doctor, they were told to stop trying. But that didn't take with Helen.

"I was reading through Job and said, 'Lord, you could do it for Job and you can do it for us,'" she expressed.

God answered her prayer. Eventually, the couple went on to raise 10 kids, drawing a lot on Helen’s previous experience teaching.

It was a struggle, however. When the low periods in their lives came, often they would bury themselves in work and lean on the Lord.

Don and Helen lived and raised their family on the farm for 40 years. In 1985, they quit farming and began renting out the land, then finally sold it in 1995. They moved to their current home in Wykoff in 1992, eventually adding on a large room to hold family gatherings.

They have both been active in the years since. Helen for many years traveled to area nursing homes to visit shut-ins, deliver the tape of that week's sermon and give them a small vase of flowers to cheer them up. In the beginning she also brought several students to visit the shut-ins around town, then headed over to the Spring Valley Nursing Home to visit with church members there. She also worked for a hospice for 10 years. Soon she began taking the tapes to the Chatfield and Preston nursing homes as well.

"I would spend three afternoons a week in different nursing homes," Helen shared.

In the past few years she has had to slow down in this realm after having been diagnosed with cancer seven years ago.

Don, on the other hand, worked on houses with Dale Gartner for six to seven years, and he kept his farmer's mentality. A few years after moving to town, they donated land to house the small Christian Heritage High School, but set aside a parcel of land for Don's garden. Up until a few years ago, he continued working on the big garden, but has since whittled it down to a few vegetables to can and pickle.

Now in their 90s, Don and Helen have experienced a lot together in those 70 years of marriage. They both have loved and respected each other, never closing the day in anger. Plus, Helen appreciates Don's sense of humor.

"We might have disagreed with each other, but there have never been bad words between us. She's the only girl I ever dated. I fell in love with her and five years later we were married," Don expressed.

They credit Jesus with their abundant years together.

"The Lord (helped us through) because if Don hadn't been a Christian and joined the church, I would not have looked at him twice. When we wrote back and forth after we were engaged, we both had portals of prayer. We did devotions at the same time even though we were apart. Those are the things that held us together," Helen stated.

Except for Helen spending a brief stint in a nursing home recuperating from a fall, they are still living independently. Family and friends have helped with some chores like mowing the lawn and weeding for the past few years. Helen continues carefully traversing the stairs every day to reach her sewing machine and washing machine.

The couple might be slowing down a little, but their love story continues to endure and their special 70-year milestone is surely something to celebrate and honor.