Almo Valentines for the Long Haul

Valentine
Photos by Dianna Troyer

By DIANNA TROYER

A sense of humor, mutual respect, similar interests, and a strong work ethic keep couples together. At least that’s the case for two couples in Almo, Idaho.

Their marriages have stood the test of time—more than a half century—in this picturesque valley rimmed with the mountains of southeastern Idaho.

Dancing Partners for Life

Deciding to go to a dance decades ago proved life-changing for Bill and Annalee Jones, who became partners on the dance floor of life. Married for 62 years, Bill, 88, and Annalee, 83, express their love for each other every Valentine’s Day by dancing or going out to dinner.

In the fall of 1956, Annalee accepted an invitation from her college girlfriends to go to a dance. They invited her to come home with them, so they could go to a dance in nearby Elba and celebrate a friend’s departure as a missionary for his church.

“At the dance, they wanted to introduce me to two guys who grew up in the area,” Annalee said. “Bill was one of them.” When they met, Bill said it was love at second sight.

“I joke we could see eye to eye, literally,” said Bill. “I’m short, and we’re about the same height. She was so easy to talk to about anything.”

“He was kind, and we could laugh together and have fun,” said Annalee.

They married March 8, 1957, several months after they met.

They are the embodiment of Gene Kelly’s iconic ’50s song, “Gotta Dance.” Twice a month they drive 100 miles round-trip from their home in Almo to dance at the senior center in Burley.

“When we heard the senior center hosted dances, we hesitated about going, because we thought the music might be too slow for the kind of dancing we like to do,” Annalee said. “We gave it a try and love it. They do what we like—country swing, waltz, all kinds of dancing.”

Throughout their marriage, Bill said he often told Annalee, “I make the living, while you make living worthwhile.”

Bill taught school in Pocatello, Almo, and Malta for 34 years, the last 22 as a sixth-grade teacher in Malta. Annalee was a homemaker and raised their four children.

“Be committed to your relationship,” Annalee said. “If a hardship comes up, figure out how to work it out. Don’t have the attitude of ‘I’m done.’ ”

Bill said, “Be patient, and try to understand your spouse’s point of view. Don’t let the things you want make you forget about all the things you have.”

One of the most cherished things they have is a large family—four children, 15 grandchildren, and 23 great grandchildren.

“When the kids were young, we loved camping, water skiing, snow skiing, and going to family reunions with them,” Annalee said. Now that their children have their own families, family get-togethers occur at the church.

“There are too many of us to fit in our house,” Bill said.

Besides dancing, Bill and Annalee have always enjoyed traveling, especially with good friends.  “Some of our favorite faraway places were Australia, Fiji, and Hawaii,” Annalee said.

They have crisscrossed the country from Alaska to New York, and Branson, Mo. to Nashville, Tenn. About visiting New York City, Bill said, “Once is enough.”

Annalee said of all the places that they have roamed, “it’s always nice to return home.”

Whatever Bill and Annalee do, they always try to go to their semi-monthly dances.

“We’ll keep doing it as long as we can,” Annalee said.

Bill said, “It’s still as fun dancing together as it was when we first met.”

Give That Heart A Jump

To celebrate decades of mutual adoration on Valentine’s Day, Nancy Ward, 86, said she can always count on her husband, Bob, 87, for a heart-shaped box of candy and a dinner date. Their romance is attributed to the 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air that jump-started their relationship.

They went to Raft River High School together, but he was too shy to ask her out.

“She was a cheerleader and rodeo queen,” Bob said. “I was sure she’d never go out with me—a sheepherder and cowboy.”

He enlisted in the U.S. Army and was deployed to Korea. With money he saved from his service, he bought the Bel Air at a dealership in Burley where Nancy happened to be working as a secretary.

“Once I had that car, though, I thought I had enough going for me, so I asked her out. By gosh, she said yes, and the rest is history.”

Their first date in the fall of 1954 was memorable. After dinner and a movie, they drove to an irrigation canal bank and were listening to the radio.

“We drained the battery,” Nancy said. “I was living with my brother nearby, so we walked to his house and called the dealership’s shop foreman to come and jump-start it. The next day at work, everyone teased me.”

Nancy said she admired Bob’s work ethic and how he helped his dad care for 300 head of cattle and a thousand head of sheep at the family ranch near Almo.

They were married January 19, 1956 and raised cattle and sheep. Bob summed up their 64-year marriage with a twist on a familiar vow.

“We got married for better or worse,” Bob said. “I couldn’t have done any better, and she couldn’t have done any worse. I lucked out enough to be married to the best cook and prettiest woman in the county.”

Nancy eventually quit working at the dealership due to the 100-mile roundtrip commute. She helped Bob with livestock, raised their four children, and worked locally wherever she was needed—as a school cook, a substitute bus driver, or a postal carrier.

“I’ve always liked his sense of humor and how hard he worked,” Nancy said. “He went and got lumber from an airbase in Nevada that was being torn down and used that to build our house.”

Based on their decades of experience,   they shared advice about marriage.

“Sometimes what you want and what you need are two different things. Be satisfied with getting what you need,” added Nancy.

She encouraged Bob to achieve a goal of fulfilling both a need and a want.

“He always wanted to be a pilot and own a plane,” she said, “I told him he should do it sooner than later.”

He learned to fly and, with a partner, bought a Piper Tri-Pacer plane to check on sheepherders he hired to care for the flock he grazed about 100 miles south of Almo along the western shore of Salt Lake.

“Flying instead of driving saved me a lot of time,” he said. “Then we sold the sheep and plane and just raised cattle.”

They have not only worked hard, they have played hard as well—traveling to Hawaii and Scotland and England and serving a mission for their church at Nauvoo, Ill.

Nancy disagreed with Bob about her getting the worse of their marriage.

“We both got the best and a wonderful family,” she said of their four children, 17 grandchildren, and 12 great grandchildren. “We’re blessed to have what we want and need.” ISI