by Jessica Langdon
OLATHE — Alice and Dale Rockey were both dating other people when a Sunday afternoon drive to the country changed everything.
It was 1933, and the two couples had double-dated before. But that day, Dale’s girlfriend was working at her parents’ movie theater.
“So Dale was kind of killing time until he could pick her up, and he came by my house,” said Alice, who was sitting on the porch when he arrived.
“Come on, go for a ride with me,” he suggested.
It turned out to be the trip of a lifetime.
Dale and Alice Rockey, 98-year-old members of St. Paul Parish in Olathe, celebrated their 80th wedding anniversary on Dec. 29, 2013. The anniversary marked a milestone not only for them, but for married couples in Kansas.
Deacon Tony Zimmerman, lead consultant for the archdiocesan office of marriage and family life, presented a certificate to the Rockeys in February, honoring them for the longevity of their marriage in celebration of World Marriage Day.
Dale was 18 and Alice was just a few days shy of her 18th birthday when they said, “I do,” in 1933.
With the country in the throes of the Great Depression, the couple started out their married life with only $11 to their name.
But Dale would tell newlyweds even today to do the same.
Back then, it cost about $2 for the marriage license, and Dale gave the priest about $2.50. With a tank of gas, the newlyweds spent a couple of nights with Dale’s aunt and uncle.
“That was our honeymoon,” he said.
He headed back to work the next day.
Dale made a career in Ford dealerships, with most of those years spent in Alliance, Neb.
Alice set linotype and did proofreading and composition for Iron Man magazine.
Her work made her a formidable opponent in many a game of Scrabble, said her daughter-in-law Sandy Rockey, who is married to their son Tom.
“She knows every word that ever was,” she said, “and how to spell all the words!”
But it was her math skills that were at the heart of their happiness.
“Alice has said many times, ‘We never had a lot of money, but we were always rich,’” said Sandy, “which I think is a beautiful way to look at life.”
“We’re still rich, aren’t we?” asked Alice, turning to her husband.
“You bet,” agreed Dale.
Dale and Alice raised five boys: Jim, Bruce, Tom, John and Michael.
Alice grew up Catholic, but Dale’s conversion came when Michael — their youngest — was about five.
Dale went to church with his family and, as they walked home after an evening service, Michael asked a pointed question.
“He says, ‘Daddy, why don’t you be a Catholic? It don’t cost nothing,’” recalled Alice.
“So I’ve been paying ever since,” said Dale, laughing.
Secrets to a lasting marriage
Dale’s faith has taken such a hold on his life that if he filled a journal of their 80 years together, he said, you could track all the churches they’ve visited across the pages.
They witnessed the ordination of more than 300 priests during a trip to Rome, for example.
“I thought, ‘Boy, just little old me from Nebraska,’” said Dale. “It was a beautiful trip.”
He also fondly recalls days of hard work and a lot of laughter, helping groups of Sisters with projects in different parts of the country.
Closer to home, Alice often sewed vestments for their parish priests.
In 2004, and in their late 80s, the Rockeys moved to Kansas, where Tom and Sandy are parishioners of St. Paul Church in Olathe.
They lived for several years with them, but visited their sons in other parts of the country for long stretches at a time.
Two of their sons have already celebrated 50th anniversaries, Tom and Sandy have theirs coming up this July, and the other two couples’ golden anniversaries aren’t far behind.
Alice says her secret to making marriage last is simple: “I always let him have my way.”
And Dale gets the last word: “Yes, ma’am.”
Tom says he has learned patience from watching his parents.
“I try to be like my dad — I let [Sandy] have her way,” he said with a smile.
Faith has played a vital role in all of their relationships, said Sandy.
Even before she and Tom married — and before she became Catholic — Sandy knew the Catholic Church was deeply embedded in the Rockey family tree.
No matter how late a Saturday night stretched, Tom made it to church first thing Sunday morning.
“I was very impressed with that,” said Sandy. “Here’s someone who truly has a strong faith.”
And when she joined the church, “I helped pour the water,” said Dale.
At the same service, both Tom and Sandy became the godparents of the oldest child of one of Tom’s brothers.
Family means everything to Dale and Alice, and is the center of all they do.
“They just always welcomed us with open arms — kids, diaper pails, pets — and they always acted like they were glad to see us, whether they were or not,” said Sandy, recalling many holidays that packed young families with lots of little ones from out of town into their home.
“You never felt like you were intruding in their home,” said Sandy. “Everything was just love. There was so much caring.”
Not to mention endless homemade Czech food from Alice’s kitchen.
Alice and Dale have 15 grandchildren, 29 great-grandchildren, and six — and counting — great-great-grandchildren.
Looking at the long line of people who turned out in December to congratulate them on their anniversary, they were touched to see what they’d started more than 80 years ago . . . all beginning with a Sunday afternoon drive.
“We’ve had a good ride,” said Dale.