By Bill Sniffin, Columnist
Extraordinary. What a life. It has been an amazing 58 years.
This is my love letter to my wife Nancy on her 76th birthday, which is this week.
Our story starts with a tale of two young kids in Iowa a long time ago. For me, it was love at first sight.
We first met when I was an 18-year-old cub reporter in my first weeks on the job as sports editor of the local newspaper in little Harlan, Iowa. My editor Dick Gilbert called me over and handed me a folder full of black and white newspaper photos.
He told me the high school yearbook staff needed some pictures to fill out their annual and would I walk over to the school, just down the street, and give them this folder?
Off I went.
Here Is Some History
My home town was 320 miles east of there. It was a tiny little town called Wadena. Back then it was a crappy little dump. A great place to be from.
Today, it has been rediscovered because of its towering hills and beautiful valleys. In 1964 it was Iowa’s version of Appalachia. It was amazing that I was able to get out of there. I left there a week after graduating from high school.
Back to my story: I walked into the Harlan high school building and found my way upstairs to an area set aside for the yearbook staff. There was the prettiest girl I had ever seen, sitting there with her head down, working on yearbook pages.
She finally looked up and noticed me and gave me a big smile. I handed her the photos and she thanked me. I could not help but notice she had the bluest eyes I had ever seen. Then she went back to work. I turned and left.
My head was swirling. My immediate thought was, that was the prettiest and nicest girl I had ever seen in my life. My feelings at the time are as clear today as they were back 58 years ago: “Could a poor guy like me from a crappy little town ever have a chance to have a fantastic girl like that?”
No way, I decided, as I headed back to work with my head down.
It should be pointed out I was just six months older than Nancy. But I looked much older. My boss made me wear a sport coat and tie and she assumed I was in my mid-20s.
Later I was lonely young kid sitting with my head down reading a book in a booth at a local restaurant when someone walked up and said, “Hi.” It was her. She worked there, and being the friendly type that she was, she saw me there alone, came over and chatted. She wanted to cheer me up. She still thought I was some older man.
A few minutes later her boyfriend showed up, a young man named Darrel who was wearing his letter jacket. I knew him as a star of the football team, which I had been reporting on.
Although we stayed on friendly terms, I realized Nancy was already spoken for. This went on for six months. She gradually realized we were the same age. We were starting to click and I finally asked her on a date. She said yes and we went to the movie Goldfinger. She ditched her old boyfriend the next day and well, the rest is history. Our history.
I got the prettiest girl and the nicest girl.
I still cannot believe it. Lucky me. It is a blessing.
Been Together A Long Time
Later she worked at a small college so I could go back to school there. She always kept me going. She was Chief Financial Officer of all our businesses.
After almost six decades of being together, four kids, 13 grandkids, three great-grandkids, her bout of cancer, her lifetime of MS, we still feel a great sense of romance. Our song is the 1960s ballad Unchained Melody. Our kids love to play that song when we are celebrating something.
Nancy has given me so much. I tell her: “I never liked walking in the snow, until I walked in the snow with you.” And that goes for a million other things.
My life has been one of aggressive business and being super competitive. She has spent all these years taming me down and making me a nicer person.
She brought stability to my life. We joke that she raised me as her fifth child. Men like me never mature until they are 60. We sort of grew up together.
Her life has been all about volunteerism with empathy and humility. She was awarded Wyoming’s Jefferson Award in 2011 for her exceptional community work.
So here we are. If life is a game, we are nearing the end. Rather than thinking we are in the fourth quarter of a football game, I prefer thinking we are in the middle of the seventh inning of a baseball game and it is time for a stretch.
And there is nobody I would rather spend that stretch time with than Nancy.
Happy birthday honey!