After 50 years, couple remembers only the good
Published: July 13, 2007 | 6470th good news item since 2003
The Midtown house that Yoneko and Wilbur St. John share with their daughter and son-in-law is filled with homemade quilts, old photographs, keepsakes made by grandchildren and Yoneko’s graduation certificate from a sewing school in Japan.
This hangs proudly on the wall of her sewing room. Toward the corners are floor-to-ceiling glass shelves stuffed with hundreds of Beanie Babies, their little yellow and blue and green paws pressed against the sides.
“She started collecting those years ago,” said Wilbur, 75, peering at the case. “One is different, what, the wrong color or something?”
“Oh,” said Yoneko, 78, waving it all off with a laugh, “there are many. So many!”
The couple have been married “so many” years, 50 to be exact. They met in 1954 when Wilbur was stationed in Yokohama, Japan, with the Army fire department.
They first noticed each other at a summer beach party.
“She saw me, and I saw her seeing me,” Wilbur said.
He asked her out.
“I said no way,” Yoneko said. “He looks like he’s 40.”
So Wilbur pulled out his ID card, and Yoneko found out she was actually a few years older.
“Remember that?” she asked.
“Oh yeah, I remember,” Wilbur said.
Things went well until New Year’s Eve, when Wilbur received emergency orders to return to Missouri, where his father was seriously ill.
“I just knew that she was the woman for me,” Wilbur said. “I just knew. If you have to question, then it probably isn’t.”
“Oh my goodness,” Yoneko said. “Before he left, we both knew we were going to marry.”
Wilbur was restationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Yoneko attended a two-year dressmaker school in Japan, and the couple wrote letters. Two years later, Wilbur, recently out of the Army, returned to Japan for Yoneko.
They married at the American Consulate, and as time went by, and Wilbur was unable to find a decent job, he re-enlisted. They left soon after on a military boat bound for the United States.
“In October 1958 is the first time I stepped in this country,” Yoneko said.
They moved around military bases during Wilbur’s 20 years of service, which included two tours in Korea and one in Vietnam. In the early 1960s, they arrived at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks. Yoneko worked as a tailor for J.C. Penney. That, they said, was a very good time.
“It was exciting,” Yoneko said. “We were up here for the flood and the earthquake.”
When what Wilbur terms “the oil people” started coming up, they returned to Missouri, where they concentrated on raising their children, Denise and Debra. But they missed Alaska, and as soon as the kids were out of the house they returned, this time to Delta Junction.
“Oh, we are so happy then,” Yoneko said. “We love Alaska.”
Wilbur worked as fire chief and safety manager, and Yoneko opened up her own tailor shop. They fished, traveled and collected a stash of Alaska toys, including a four-wheeler.
“Yeah, I get out the monster, put the wife on the back and off we go,” Wilbur said.
The secret of their long-term marriage, they said, is staying close to family, which includes four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“We laugh together,” Yoneko said.
“We work things out,” Wilbur added. “We got with the flow.”
Then he got serious.
“Listen,” he said. “You know how they say marriage is 50/50? Nah, that doesn’t work. Sometimes I give 100 percent, and other times she gives 100 percent.”
“We are also always honest with each other,” Yoneko said.
They ask each other for advice, they said. They share things. They listen to each other.
“When she wants to do certain things, I drive along,” Wilbur said. “I might not like the activity, but I’m there. Then when I want to do something, she goes along with me.”
“We help each other that way,” Yoneko said. “We look for the best. We don’t worry …”
“… about the downside,” Wilbur finished for her. “See, she starts a sentence, and I just know what she’s going to say. That’s what I mean. We stay with the good.
“After a while, you look back, and the bad times, the unpleasant times fade away. You realize how little they meant. You only remember the good.”