By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
NEWTON — When Bob and Mary Pritchard married, World War II was still raging. Though 72 years have passed since then, the nonagenarian Sacred Heart parishioners are still in love, and grateful to God for their good health and lasting marriage.
“I thank God for having us together for this long and I guess he has more things for us to do; we’re still here. That’s the way I see it,” Mary Prichard said.
Added her husband, “The memories we have are what keep us together. And she’s still the prettiest thing you ever saw.”
Bob Pritchard said he first set eyes on Mary — then Mary Muñoz — when they were teenagers. Working at his brother’s gas station in West Des Moines, he watched her walk by his workplace daily. “I sure liked the looks of that girl going down the street,” he recalls.
Bob became acquainted first with Mary’s younger brother, and later, the whole family.
Initially, Mary wasn’t quite as smitten with Bob as he was of her. “I really didn’t care that much for him at first until I got to know him,” she said with a laugh. “He was very kind, and it just seemed like he fit in with (my) family.”
They went on a few dates attending local football games. Not long after, Bob proposed marriage, and Mary accepted.
Mary was a cradle Catholic, and Bob was interested in joining the Church prior to their marriage. However, Bob was drafted into the Army before he could finish his baptism preparation. They were married by a justice of the peace on May 16, 1942, just before he left to serve in the Middle East. They promised each other and their parish, Sacred Heart in West Des Moines, that they would have a proper Catholic Rite of Marriage upon his return. Mary recalls, “(Bob) didn’t want to take a chance at losing me.”
While Bob was deployed, he studied Catholicism, was baptized in Bombay, India, in 1943, and served as a chaplain’s assistant. When he returned to the United States in 1945, Bob and Mary celebrated the sacrament of marriage nearly three years to the day of their civil marriage.
Mary said she and Bob understood that the sacrament of marriage meant making a lifelong commitment. “You always have (the sacrament) in your mind. … My mother always said, ‘If you get married, you’re going to get married for life.’ I never forgot that!”
After the war, they moved to their hometown of Newton, joined Sacred Heart Parish, and welcomed four children. Bob worked as a switchman for the railroad, and Mary was a church volunteer. She still volunteers as a prayer team member.
Daughter Lorie Pritchard said, “We were blessed with the most wonderful parents any child could have. Their love for children and each other was obvious.”
Mary said the respect she and Bob share with each other, along with similar values and a great compatibility, have been important in keeping their relationship strong. Bob added, “We never go to bed mad!” They said they pray together often, and make God an important part of their relationship.
Mary added that while they have enjoyed some of the same hobbies, such as square dancing, “we do things by ourselves, too … and that’s good.”
Lorie said that her parents express their faith in different, yet complimentary ways. “My mother … it was clear in church or at home as we prayed the rosary together that she had a deep love of God. You could see it in her face. (My father) would help anyone, anywhere. He fed the hobos from the trains and helped them however he could.”
Added daughter Monica Skokan, “Together they are one with their individual strengths which support the other in what they are lacking.”
Bob and Mary attribute their longevity to being active, praying, and not smoking or drinking. They also credit loved ones for their continued joy. They have eight grandchildren, 14 great grandchildren, and three great-great grandchildren. “We are a very happy family,” Bob said.
Mary said she recognizes that many couples today struggle to commit to a lifelong marriage. Their pastor, Father William Reynolds, said he believes the Pritchards’ long marriage can serve as an example and give hope to other Catholic couples. He said marriage is not only a union of two people, but also includes God and the faith community.
“Bob and Mary’s devotion to each other is also indicative of their devotion to the faith … their long marriage gives hope to others that they too might live marriage in such a loving and giving way as to enjoy a similar result,” he said.