By Barb Arland-Fye
MELROSE – Kay Conway’s husband John died several months before their 55th wedding anniversary, but she received his final gift of love long after the milestone.
Kay, who celebrated her 91st birthday April 9, described her husband as a kind, soft-spoken, intelligent man who got along well with everyone. “He seemed to have a way about him that you couldn’t help but like him,” said Kay, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Melrose.
Shortly after she graduated from high school, the couple met at a dance in the Iowa mining town of Hiteman, where she lived. He was a school teacher from Melrose who arrived at the dance with a carload of friends. Because she was dating someone else, John and Kay didn’t become a couple until later.
John proposed to Kay before he left to serve in World War II in 1942. Wounded twice, the second time more severely, he endured surgeries and hospital stays before returning home in 1945. He was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for valor in battle. She, meanwhile, had been preparing to become Catholic, studying with Father Lambert Heinen of St. Mary Parish in Albia. The priest also strongly recommended Kay for a job at the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant in Middleton, Iowa, where she worked for three years.
John and Kay married June 25, 1945, between John’s hospital stays. After getting out of the hospital, John went to work for J.I. Case in Burlington and then farmed in the Melrose area. John and Kay raised five children and a grandson. Kay’s little sister, Dorothy, also visited them frequently. Kay recalls the time a man at the state fair remarked that she sure had a cute little girl. Dorothy, with hands on her hips, told the man: “That’s my old married sister; that’s not my mom.”
Kay and John had their ups and downs just like other long-married couples. “We had a good married life.” They were of the generation that didn’t “go lollygagging” over one another, Kay said. But John had his ways of showing his love, such as doing something just because he thought Kay would like it, or buying a dress he thought would suit her. “I never had to take one back,” she noted. On their 50th wedding anniversary, they renewed vows. “I figured we were pretty well tied to one another,” Kay says fondly.
The year they were to celebrate their 55th anniversary, John had a stroke and was hospitalized for a total of 2-1/2 months. Kay was at his bedside all but one of those days. “The sad part was that he didn’t know who I was.” He also couldn’t speak, and died in March 2000.
In the months that followed, the one thing Kay couldn’t bear to do was clean out John’s sock drawer because she wasn’t ready to let go. Then, for three nights in a row, “I woke up in the night and John was standing beside my chest of drawers and he had his hand in the back of the drawer.” He seemed to be motioning to her.
Finally, she willed herself to clear out the sock drawer. “In the corner was an old sock and this little black box was in it. I wondered what in the world was in there. I opened it up and there was the most beautiful diamond ring that you ever saw.”
With tears streaming down her face, she opened a crooked, folded note of paper inside the box. The penmanship was barely legible, but she was able to make out the words: “Kay, this is my last gift to you. I love you very much. John R.”
“Mom never experienced the visions again after finding the ring,” her oldest son, John, said.
“Even though he couldn’t tell me anything before he died,” Kay added, “I knew I was still in his heart.”