By David Knopf, News Editor
The odds weren’t in their favor, but Forrest and Dorothea Wollard persevered.
The couple, who’ll celebrate their 70th anniversary the day before Valentine’s
To further tempt fate, the Wollards said their vows on Friday the 13th in 1942, just months after Pearl Harbor.
“I guess it worked out,” said Dorothea. “Seventy years.”
Few couples get to say that, but Forrest, 91, and Dorothea, 87, show no sign of resting on their laurels. They live in their own home, and while Dorothea has a medical issue that makes her cautious about going out in the winter, they’re active and full of life.
The couple met at a basketball game between Central High School, then in Rockingham and now part of Hardin-Central, and Stet.
“We were enemies,” said Forrest. “I was in sports at Central and she was a cheerleader (for Stet). I thought she was kind of cute, blue eyes and all, so I went over there at halftime and asked her out on a date, and she said she couldn’t date yet.”
Dorothea’s parents were farmers and conservative enough to think she wasn’t quite ready to go out. But she wasn’t too young to not notice the handsome Central player who’d caught her eye.
“He was an awful good basketball player and good looking, too,” she said.
A few years older, Forrest couldn’t wait forever, so he hooked up with the next best thing – Dorothea’s best friend.
But the next year he went back and finally got a date with a blue-eyed cheerleader he couldn’t forget.
Forrest graduated in 1939 and went to work as produce manager for the A&P store in Excelsior Springs, making $15 a week. Dorothea graduated Stet in 1941, then went off to college, wanting to become a teacher.
But in 1941-42, the prospect of war made any plans tenuous at best, and Forrest figured the draft board wouldn’t overlook him.
“It hadn’t come yet, but we knew it was coming,” he said.
Love has a way of setting its own schedule, so on Feb. 13, 1942 Forrest and Dorothea went to Liberty to be married in the Baptist parsonage. It helped that the preacher knew that Forrest’s father had been sheriff in Ray County (and later police chief in Richmond).
“Why are you Reed Wollard’s son?” Forrest recalls him asking. “Yes, I’ll marry you.”
Marrying without either of their parents’ permission made for some nervous moments, Forrest said.
“I was scared looking in that mirror and (seeing) that minister about to marry me,” he said.
The circumstances were a bit out of the ordinary, but the total absence of wedding hoopla wasn’t, Dorothea said.
“People didn’t have big weddings then,” she said. “They just couldn’t afford it, coming out of the Depression.”
Forrest had a job and Dorothea found one, teaching at the school in Crescent Lake. The draft board caught up with the Wollards, drafting Forrest and two of his brothers.
“Mom had three stars in the window because she had three sons she had to send off,” Forrest said. “She wanted a daughter to help with the house, to do the dishes and such, but she had six sons and give up.”
Forrest went into the Army Air Corps and became a specialist in sorting through service records at base headquarters. He got so good at it, the Army sent him on a whistle-stop tour of bases in Galveston, Texas, Salt Lake City, Wisconsin and elsewhere.
“I was at three P.O.E.s (postal addresses),” he said. “I never did have to go overseas. I moved around so much, the bosses never got a chance to promote me.”
He was never more than a corporal, but made $21 a week – $6 more than at the A&P.
Dorothea said the Army must’ve realized if it sent Forrest to clean up paperwork messes at base headquarters, the messes got cleaned up. And since he seemed bound to stay stateside, after two years of teaching she went to live with him, moving from base to base and finding work where she could.
With the war over, the couple returned to Missouri to put down roots and raise a family. With three children – Ronald Reed, Emily and Dorothea Kay – Dorothea had her hands full and didn’t return to teaching. Forrest went to work for coops, Farmland and Consumer’s, calling on retail outlets that sold fuel and commodities. He retired after 33 years.
Dorothea wasn’t the type to leave all business matters to her husband. She might’ve been a stay-at-home mom, but she had common sense and a sharp mind for figures.
“I didn’t want to be one of those women who couldn’t do anything, never paid a bill or anything,” she said. “I didn’t want to be like that.”
From time to time, people would approach Forrest with potentially lucrative real-estate deals. He and his partner Dorothea would assume risks and rewards together, just as they had done in 1942.
“He keeps his set of books and I keep mine, and if one of us makes a mistake, the other catches it,” she said.
Seems to have worked quite well, this partnership. Forrest said Dorothea’s the only girl he ever dated who wouldn’t demand that he take her to Kansas City for a movie. On a $15 weekly salary, he said he just couldn’t afford it.
“We just worked out well together and loved each other, never had a big slap-down fight or anything,” Dorothea said.
Their union produced the three children, each of whom had three children of their own. In addition to the nine grandchildren – seven boys and two girls – there are 16 great-grandkids. When Forrest turned 90, they all got together and threw him a party at one of their children’s homes.
It wasn’t always easy, but Forrest and Dorothea seem to have carved out a fulfilling life built on love and respect. There’s no secret formula for making it through 70 years of marriage, but taking time to find pleasure in small things never hurts Dorothea said.
“I just wish young people would today stay married as long as we have and enjoy life,” she said.