It won’t matter how they celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, because Nevada residents Dick and Shirley Pilgrim, both 87 and married to each other for 67 years, had an unforgettable and very romantic moment in January that they will treasure always.
In honor of their 67th anniversary on Jan. 2, the couple came home from an Iowa State basketball game to find that their home had been turned into a gourmet restaurant, and the dining room table was set up as a candlelight dinner spot for two with flowers, champagne and all the other delights of a first-class dating experience.
The surprise was thanks to the couple’s three children — Lynne, Jeff and Melanie. "All the kids were here that night," Shirley said, holding up a menu they made for the evening. It listed the gourmet foods that Melanie created in the kitchen. "They had it all set up so beautiful. I don’t know if we’ve ever had a candlelight dinner before, but it was very nice." Dick nodded his head in agreement.
With the holiday of love upon us this coming weekend, it can be interesting to look into the lives of people like the Pilgrims to see what a tried and true love story really looks like.
The Pilgrims say for them it has been about having a sense of humor, always communicating with each other and setting life goals together.
"You have to realize there will be joys and sorrows and ups and downs," Dick said. The key, they agreed, is sticking with each other through what Dick describes as a long road with a lot of potholes.
The Pilgrims didn’t grow up that far from each other. Shirley Hesson was born and raised in rural Newton; Dick was born and raised in rural Grinnell. The two schools were big rivals, but it wasn’t in high school that the two met. It was at Iowa State. Even though they are both the same age now, Dick is six months older than Shirley and was a year ahead of her in school. He went to Iowa State, where he lived in the congregational student center. They threw parties with dances on the weekends, and Shirley, who had a girlfriend at Iowa State, went to Ames to visit her and ended up at one of those parties, where she and Dick mingled a bit.
The next year, when Shirley became a student at Iowa State, the relationship took off.
"He had a good sense of humor, was intelligent and good-looking, and he wasn’t too serious about life at that time," Shirley recalls of her initial attraction to Dick.
Dick said he found Shirley to be good-looking, smart and someone who had a great personality. But probably the thing that really sealed the deal for them, they both agree, was their similar way of growing up on Iowa farms, with wonderful parents and families. They wanted to continue that type of lifestyle as they married and grew old together.
Their first place of residence was in a rented farmhouse outside of Newton. Shirley had a great job there, working for the local telephone company. But in 1952, along came Lynne, and back in those days, most women stayed home to raise their children.
It was while the couple lived near Grinnell that Jeff was born in 1955. By 1960, when Melanie came along, the couple had moved to Nevada and was renting a farmhouse north of the town that would become their home for many, many years. Dick was impressed with the soil of Story County, he said when asked why he wanted to move to the area. Eventually, after much hard work and sacrifice, the couple managed to purchase their own farm four miles east and half a mile north of Nevada, which is where they lived for many years. In fact, when they decided to move into a smaller house in town four years ago, one of their grandsons moved into their farmhouse.
There were ups and downs all the way through their married years, Shirley recalls. "There were droughts, low grain prices … we both worked off the farm when we had to … there was lots of hard work. But we set our goals and worked to achieve them."
While Dick always enjoyed farming, Shirley said she fell in love with her longtime career at Story County Extension, working with the 4-H programs. In fact, she still today volunteers to help with 4-H events when she can.
Dick and Shirley say it was also important to them throughout the years to be involved in things, like their church and community activities. "Loving to stay busy, we had that in common," Shirley said. The couple also enjoyed hanging out with friends and traveling.
"We’d always find time to do fun things together," Dick said.
And they found lots of time with family, Shirley said. Life was different when their kids were growing up. "We sat down together for meals. Our kids were involved, but not like people have their kids involved in so much today. There was time for family togetherness."
Technology has also added a new challenge to today’s families, both agreed. Dick puts out his hands like he’s texting on a phone. "There was communication back then … with each other," he said.
As they look back, and share a photo album that contains many wonderful pictures and articles about their life, both agree that family has been the most important thing in their 67-year love story. "Three children, seven grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and more on the way," Shirley said, "that’s one of our great successes … our family."