Family matters Local

‘One day at a time’

Marge and Jack Gladbach

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

When you have nine children, sharing becomes a way of life. When you, your spouse and those nine children share a 924-square-foot home, you’d better have a sense of humor to go along with it.

Marge and Jack Gladbach, who are among those celebrating their golden anniversary this year, met in college. After three semesters in the Benedictine seminary, Jack Gladbach knew the monastic life wasn’t calling his name. Then one evening he met Mount St. Scholastica student Marge Schumacker, and the decision was sealed.

The couple started their life together in an idyllic setting. Jack was in the Navy and the couple spent their first two years in Hawaii, where he was deployed 17 days and then home 17 days.

“Everybody used to joke that that was the perfect setup for a happy marriage,” said Jack. “Of course, we had two children within that length of time, so that should tell you something,” added Marge.

When his stint in the Navy ended, Jack moved his family to Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa. There they moved into a small house — now fondly referred to as the “cracker box” — and added seven more children to their brood. Family members generally managed to get along by respecting one another’s independence and by sharing the work that is part and parcel of life in a big family.

“I washed and changed a lot of diapers,” said Jack. “And I always tried to instill in the children that they have respect for their mother and help her.” Jack helped with cooking and cleaning, while Marge did her share of mowing the lawn and worked part time to ensure all nine children attended Catholic schools.

And she encouraged the children to rely on their father. “The first word I taught the children was ‘dada’ versus ‘mama,’” she confessed. Eventually, the family moved to a bigger home in St. Agnes Parish in Roeland Park, where the couple still lives today.

When asked how they navigated 50 years and nine children, Marge had a simple answer. “One day at a time,” she declared. “Tell the rest of it,” prompted Jack. “What have you considered several times instead of divorce?” “Oh . . . murder,” Marge confessed with a laugh, followed with these sage words of advice.

“You have to have a sense of humor.” On a more serious note, the Gladbachs agree, all you really need to know about marriage can be found in 1 Cor. 13:4-8. And they try to live that passage every day. Marge and Jack Gladbach consider a sense of humor an important ingredient in the success of their 50-year marriage.

More than 100 couples gathered at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Kansas City, Kan., for the annual archdiocesan golden wedding anniversary Mass on June 8. Mimi and Ray Wiggins Jean and Eugene Messing Jean and Eugene Messing believe shared faith is an important part of their 60-year marriage. They share an adoration hour each week at Church of the Nativity, Leawood.

Jean and Eugene Messing

Ten years before the Gladbachs tied their knot, in the little town of Hastings, Neb., Eugene Messing was working for the J.C. Penney Company when his future bride, Jean, joined the staff. She was a pretty, petite brunette with an infectious smile that hasn’t faded with time. Eugene insists it was love at first sight.

“As a matter of fact,” he said, “when she came to work there, I said to the other guys, ‘She’s mine; you leave her alone.’” Eugene was smart to trust his intuition. On May 11 of this year, the Messings celebrated 60 years together. One of the happiest days of his life, said Eugene, and one that relieved his parents’ mind greatly, came six months into their relationship. “Jean came to me and asked if she could join the Catholic Church,” he said.

After practicing their faith together over the last 60 years, the Messings believe that a shared faith is the most important ingredient in their happy marriage. “Having one faith in a family is very important,” said Eugene. “Every Sunday we go to church together, and we’ve been doing adoration together for four years.” The couple has belonged to Saint Pius X Parish in Mission, Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood, and currently belongs to Church of the Nativity in Leawood.

They have three grown children — each seven years apart. But the age difference hasn’t prevented a strong family bond. The challenges of raising their children and the pride in each child’s accomplishments are other ingredients in the glue that holds this family together.

“They’ve made us very proud and we’re all very close,” said Eugene. “Every holiday we get together. That’s very important — family staying together and celebrating.” In recent years, Jean has suffered from dementia, becoming more dependent on Eugene for both practical care and emotional support. But even that development has only made the couple’s bond grow stronger.

“It’s a struggle,” said Eugene. “But I don’t mind doing it, because that’s why we get married — so we can take care of each other in life.” “It’s true love,” he added, “When we said, ‘I do,’ that meant forever.”

Mimi and Ray Wiggins

At the height of the Depression in the late 1930s, dancing was a popular pastime in Maryville, Mo., and a dance hall was where college student Ray Wiggins met his future wife, Mimi. “She had a twin sister,” Ray likes to joke. “It was hard to choose between them.”

But Mimi claims he never had a choice. And Ray must have ended up with the right twin, because he and Mimi have been married now for 70 years. Ray wasn’t a Catholic when he married Mimi. But he soon converted and, like the other couples, the Wigginses believe a shared faith is a key to their happy marriage — that, combined with the sense of commitment more prevalent among Catholics 70 years ago.

Ray still remembers his first meeting with a priest before his wedding. “He said, ‘You know when you get married to a Catholic, it’s forever,’” Ray recalled. “And I said, ‘Forever?’ And he said ‘Till death do you part.’ “And I said, ‘Well how about 50 years or forever — whichever comes first?’ “Well, not many people lived long enough back then to be married 50 years,” Ray continued, “so the priest answered, ‘I guess that would be good enough.’”

The most difficult time in the their marriage should have been at the beginning, when they were poor and struggling through the final years of the Depression. But Mimi and Ray enjoyed even those years. “We were poor, but we didn’t know it,” said Ray. “Everybody was in the same boat because nobody had any money,” explained Mimi. “We were all doing fun inexpensive things together — card games and that sort of thing.”

Eventually, however, the couple was able to indulge their common interest in golf, travel and collecting antiques. It wasn’t until they’d been married 20 years that they had their only child, Sally. And even that momentous occasion resulted in only one small change in their relationship – Mimi gave up golf. Because Ray worked for the Illinois Central Railroad, the Wigginses moved nine times during their married life, settling at last in Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park, where they raised their daughter.

Now 93 and 94 respectively, Mimi and Ray have exchanged their home and treasure-trove of collectible antiques for a modest apartment at Lakeview Village in Lenexa.

Reflecting on 70 years together, their formula for a happy marriage is very simple. “We just enjoyed life and went along with things that happened,” Mimi said. “Back then, people had the idea that if you got married, you stayed married. You didn’t throw it away.” “But I threaten her every now and then,” Ray teased. “You know, we used up the 50 years.”

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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