By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Jeanne Porter met her future husband, John, while on a dinner date with someone else more than 70 years ago. John, her date’s roommate at the University of Iowa where all three were students, served as a waiter that night. He remembered that she was the only girl that night to ask for a second serving of potatoes!
A month or so later, John called Jeanne on the phone to ask for a date. “I said, no, I wouldn’t go. He talked to me for a bit and five minutes later, called back. I said, no, but we were having so much fun on the phone, laughing.” John continued to call about every five minutes, getting the same answer. On the 15th call, he asked, “When can you go?” Finally, they set a date to go to the Little Switzerland ice skating rink in Iowa City. “We had a wonderful time,” Jeanne recalled.
The couple dated for three years. He was Protestant and she was Catholic. John returned home to Oskaloosa, where he worked in the home office of Hawkeye Lumber Co., the business that his father and grandfather owned.
Jeanne and John followed their hearts, marrying on Sept. 11, 1950, at St. Mary Catholic Church in Iowa City. “We loved each other; he was my best friend,” Jeanne said of John. He attended Mass with Jeanne, even while they dated and promised that he would convert to the Catholic faith. He did, a year later. “We surprised my parents,” Jeanne said. John wanted them to find out when he went up to receive Communion during Mass one Sunday morning at St. Mary’s in Iowa City.
“He is a wonderful Catholic,” Jeanne said. “He just loves it.” Their faith, love and friendship has sustained them into their seventh decade of marriage. John’s failing eyesight and bad back keep them from attending Mass in person these days, but Jeanne appreciates the role of the church in the success and longevity of their marriage. “You are getting graces all of the time,” she said. “The grace you get from Communion, you don’t realize how much grace it gives you.”
They have leaned on that grace during times of sorrow in their marriage, such as their son Charlie’s cancer diagnosis at age 20 and his death 17 years later from the disease. They also experienced a devastating fire at Hawkeye Lumber in 1977, but rebuilt. John worked his way up in the company, starting out driving a truck and lifting lumber and eventually becoming president. “His grandfather and father wanted him to know every aspect of the business,” Jeanne said.
Longing to have children, Jeanne and John adopted a girl and, two years later, a boy. Jeanne believes “God picked us out to raise our children (Joan and Charlie). She prays for each of her children’s birth mother. “I’ll never meet them, but I’m grateful to them.”
Jeanne and John were active in their parish, St. Mary in Oskaloosa; John helped build the Catholic school there and Jeanne volunteered extensively at the school. Now in their twilight years, Jeanne and John spend most of their time together at home. Each appreciates the other for the gifts they bring to their marriage. “He’s a great guy, as honest as can be,” said Jeanne, who also describes her husband as a kind man. He describes her as special. “She’s wonderful to me. I can’t thank her enough for putting up with me all that time. She says I’m kind; maybe that’s the other thing I have going for me.”
Father John Spiegel, who served as the Oskaloosa parish’s pastor until his retirement this year, describes Jeanne and John as a gracious couple. Carolyn Dale, a longtime friend and parish volunteer, calls Jeanne and John regularly. She took Communion to them before the pandemic.
Carolyn invited Jeanne and John to attend Mass in their car in the church parking lot, listening to the liturgy on their radio. They accepted the invitation, attending Mass on their late son’s birthday. “Through thick and think, they have each other. They have their faith,” Carolyn says.
“Regarding my parents’ 70 years of marriage, I am grateful for the role models they are to me and my husband and to our children and their spouses,” daughter Joan Wass says. “I believe the key has been their faith to get them through the really tough times, as well as their ability to laugh their way through the more typical trials. Each would do anything for the other. I am very lucky to have them as my parents.”