The flames of love still burn after 70 years

June 29, 2010

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Bill (left) and Ona Bentz reflect and joke on all of the happiness their 70 years of marriage have brought them during their lives in Seattle and Issaquah. By Greg Farrar

Issaquah couple credits strong family ties for keeping them together for seven decades

Over the handlebars of William Bentz’s bicycle, Onadee Steward fell in love.

The pair spent the mid- to late 1930s riding miles together through the Yakima countryside on their way to and from school and town.

“He wasn’t nearly as wild as some of the young men,” Onadee, or Ona as she likes to be called, now 89, recalled. “He was clean cut and didn’t pay much attention to girls.”

“In that day, bicycling was big. I’d pick her up and pump up the hill to school and back. She really outsmarted me,” Bill, 90, said with a chuckle. “You would have thought I would have caught on. I was the one doing all the work and she got to ride with me.”

Seventy years later, their love still burns brightly. Their closest family and friends helped them celebrate their 70th anniversary at a party at Mandarin Garden on May 23.

Love and war

Bill and his mother moved to the U.S. from Germany in 1922, after his parents’ marriage fell apart. The two came through New York’s Ellis Island and migrated west to Bainbridge, and then to Yakima.

Ona’s family settled in Yakima in the early 1930s, after moving there from Oregon. The two met at Washington Junior High School in Yakima.

While finishing school, both held odd jobs — as couriers, picking apples and hops, or as field hands — to bring in an income to help their families weather the Great Depression.

After graduating from the ninth grade, Bill decided to move west to Seattle.

“There was a lot more opportunity in Seattle and a lot more jobs, so I didn’t have any trouble finding anything,” he said.

He returned to propose to Ona, then 19, and the couple moved to Seattle. They were married on May 23, 1940, in a court ceremony that cost more than a week’s worth of Bill’s wages.

“When we first got married, I was a caddy at Broadmoor Golf Club making a dollar a day,” Bill said.

So, for their honeymoon, there wasn’t any lavish trip to Hawaii or Europe. They instead went to eat dinner at a restaurant called Rafferty’s. The meal cost 35 cents each.

“Then, we walked over to First Avenue, where we paid 10 cents apiece to see ‘Pinocchio,’” Ona added. “Things were expensive then and we didn’t have a lot of money.”

In 1943, Bill enlisted in the Army and was sent to the South Pacific, Ona said.

“I had a lot of help from my family, so it wasn’t that devastating,” she said, adding that she lived with her mother, two sisters and a younger brother then. “It was different then than it is now, because everyone was in the same boat. You didn’t feel like you deserved something special because your husband was gone. Everyone’s husband and father was gone.”

Children and hard work

In 1946, Bill returned to Seattle from the South Pacific as an Army corporal and the father of a 2-year-old daughter, Judy, born in 1944.

“I was over there, rather than helping them here at home, but everyone in the military was in the same boat,” Bill said. “It was easier to not think of it.”

While the war was tough, Bill and Ona landed on their feet in post-war America.

Bill held a job as a letter carrier, while Ona worked as a sales representative for Frederick and Nelson department store, where she retired from in 1981.

Bill briefly returned to service, but because it was peacetime, he said, the Army cordially invited him to either move out of state or leave the service, so he left.

He worked as a school bus driver and then began working as a grounds and maintenance worker for the Highline School District at Highline High School in 1951.

In 1952, after taking courses at the then-Highline Junior College, he earned his high school diploma and quickly rose through the ranks at the school district, heading up districtwide maintenance for 12 years. During that time, Bill and Ona had their second child, Brian, in 1956.

In 1964, he was offered a job at Highline Junior College to lead its maintenance division. In all of the years they’ve been married, he’s “always been employed and we always had food on the table,” Ona said.

He retired from Highline Community College in 1978.

Family roots

So, what’s the secret to building a lasting marriage?

It’s your family, the couple said.

Though they had only two children, Judy, now 65, and Brian, now 54, Ona said eight is her lucky number. After all, they have eight grandsons, eight great-grandsons, eight great-granddaughters and two great-great-granddaughters.

“We are so blessed to have a healthy family,” Ona said. “Family, our children and our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, are the most important thing to us.”

But a sense of humor to weather the stormy seas that come in any life doesn’t hurt either, Bill said.

“It is so important to include a little humor,” he said. “Life is not always easy and you need to be able to laugh together to get through it.

“You also shouldn’t go to bed mad at each other.”

Chantelle Lusebrink: 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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