Have you heard this saying: Marriage is like a house. When a light bulb burns out, you don’t buy a new house, you fix the lightbulb? If you understand it, you understand how Cliff and Lillian Dexter view marriage. And Cliff and Lillian are experts on the subject. Cliff (age 93) and Lillian (age 89) of Milbank tied the knot on March 4, 1946. That knot has held for nearly 72 years.
“You are not always going to agree with your spouse,” Lillian said. “You just have to work things out.”
Cliff, waiting patiently for Lillian to finish, added, “It’s not a 50/50 deal. Each one of you has to give 100 percent.”
The couple met in 1943 while Lillian was working as a waitress at a cafe in Ortonville. “He would come in and sit at the counter and watch me,” Lillian said with a knowing smile. “He finally asked me on a date.”
Cliff admits he was attracted to his wife’s natural beauty, but says something else helped to hook him. “She was a pretty, little blonde, but she was quite the worker. I thought she might be somebody I should know.”
Lillian, of course, accepted Cliff’s invitation. “I thought I would give him a try. We’ve made it for awhile, I guess,” she said laughing again and smoothing the skirt on her brightly colored dress.
While Cliff was courting Lillian, he also was traveling around the world as an enlisted soldier in the U.S. Marine Corps. When the war was over, Cliff was granted a leave and the couple married. “I was a war bride, and he got married in his Marine Corps uniform,” Lillian said. He was discharged from the Marines in August that year.
Cliff went to work farming with Lillian’s father and was also hired by a combine horse team. The couple then relocated to the west coast where he worked in a lumber mill. Soon after, they decided to move back home to be near Lillian’s parents, because they were expecting their first child. Baby Ron was born in May 1947.
Unfortunately, Cliff could not find a job in Milbank. “Uncle Sam paid 52-20, which was $20 a week for one year,” Cliff recalled. After several temporary jobs, Cliff was hired to do machine bookkeeping at Dakota Granite Company. He remained employed there for 42 years, and Lillian happily stayed at home to raise their four children.
As is typical of parents with small children, Lillian and Cliff did not go out much. They occasionally went to the movies, but their main form of entertainment consisted of visiting their parents and grandparents and attending picnics with family or neighbors. They also purchased their first television – a secondhand black and white set – in 1951.
Years later, after their children were grown up and gone from home, Cliff and Lillian had time to go on dates again. Many a Saturday night, the couple went dancing. “We loved to old-time dance,” Lilian remembered with a misty look in her eyes. “Our favorites were the two-step and waltz. I would have liked to polka more, but with my hip, I can’t do that very well.”
Today, the couple enjoys putting puzzles together, playing solitaire and kings corner card games, and meeting friends for weekly meals out. “We get together with about 12 people every Tuesday night for supper, and then have Saturday morning brunch. We never know if six, eight, or 12 people will show up,” Lillian said. “We catch up on what’s going on with each of us, celebrate birthdays, and share other news we have heard. We go to church every Sunday, so we keep ourselves pretty busy. We look forward to these things.”
Cliff said through seven decades he discovered he and his bride are probably more alike than different. “She likes things to be in order. I was a Marine, so I was trained to be that way, too. That is probably why we get along so well.
Another reason the couple says their marriage has endured is their devotion to each other. “We help each other all the time… He helps me with laundry, and I help him by doing things like being his nurse,” Lillian said. “We have to work together and take care of each other.”
Some couples wait all year for Valentines Day to express their affection and gratitude. It’s a holiday made for love. But it’s just not for Cliff and Lillian. “We really don’t celebrate Valentines Day,” Cliff said. When you show your love every day, you can count over 26,000 Valentines Days.