Eldine Maixner credits three things for a happy marriage: love, family and faith.
Her husband, Joe, adds a practical fourth.
“You’ve got to share 50/50,” he said. “I can’t have control of the finances ... and neither can she.”
Simple as it may sound, the advice shouldn’t be taken lightly. Eldine and Joe don’t.
She still calls him her handsome sailor. He’s loved her since high school.
Their walls are covered with photos of kids, grandkids and great-grandkids.
After 71 years together, Eldine, 91, and Joe, 94, can speak with authority about marriage. And while they didn’t stay together for more than seven decades to win an award, the couple found themselves the recent recipients of a certificate from Worldwide Marriage Encounter.
“Longest Married Couple in Wyoming,” the certificate verifies.
They hope to one day become the longest-married couple in the nation.
Almost a century ago, Eldine and Joe were neighbors growing up in Bee, Nebraska, 18 miles from Lincoln.
He was three years older, but they ended up classmates after he took a brief hiatus.
“It was a country school and it only went to 10th grade, and I didn’t like the teacher, so I just quit going,” Joe laughed. “But then I went back.”
Even then, he says, he knew Eldine was the one.
They graduated from high school in 1942, and he helped his dad farm before enlisting in the U.S. Navy. He was stationed aboard the USS Ajax, a maintenance ship that repaired other ships in the fleet.
Eldine tried teaching for a year after Joe left for the service, but it was a “disaster.” So she left by herself to Lincoln to attend business school and work as a bookkeeper.
The Ajax arrived in San Francisco from the Pacific in the summer of 1945, the day the U.S. declared victory over Japan and World War II ended. But instead of returning to Nebraska, Joe was sent to live in New York City.
But he couldn’t be there long without his high school sweetheart.
Nestled on their cream-colored couch in their living room at Primrose Retirement Center in Casper, the couple doesn’t look like they’ve lived through a world war, the invention of the microwave and the moon landing.
They don’t snip at each other. Joe stands tall. Eldine laughs at her memories from early days.
Valentine’s Day decorations adorn their living room. Easter decorations will be up before the month is over.
They’ve been in Casper for seven years and are active in their retirement home community.
Joe likes to drive to the vets center on North Poplar Street to talk and enjoy the goodies offered to the veterans who stop in regularly.
Eldine enjoys her exercise and certain crafting groups there, though she says she is “very picky” about what crafts she does.
Together they play Wii bowling, shoot pool, work in the retirement community store and enjoy the in-house pub, where Friday happy hours are becoming legendary.
Although meals are provided, the couple prefers to cook for themselves.
“They don’t use a lot of spices, so why go there when I have a whole cabinet of spices?” Eldine said. “Joe loves to cook, too — he makes a mean salmon — and the grandchildren always request his German potato dumplings when they visit.”
Joe wasn’t stationed in New York long before sending for Eldine.
“I had never left Lincoln before, and he said he’d meet me at Penn Station,” she laughed. “I thought it would be like the depot in Lincoln, I didn’t know it had different floors, but he finally found me.”
She adjusted to city life, and stayed.
At church one Sunday in New Jersey, the priest asked why she looked sad. She told him that she just didn’t know how they would get married, so far from home.
“The priest arranged it all, and we had a small wedding with only Navy guys present,” she said.
“New York was really different then, after the war. All these men would have their uniforms on, and the city was open to them. We had a ball.”
By the end of 1946, Joe had been discharged, and they were living in Chicago.
And then came family.
First, their daughter Jeanne Hopkins, was born. Eighteen months later came Robert.
The growing family moved to Cheyenne in 1955 to be close to Joe’s sister and brother-in-law.
“We raised our kids there. We loved Cheyenne,” Eldine added. “We were 13 years in Cheyenne.”
More moves followed, to Woodland Park in Colorado, then Fort Collins and eventually Casper to be close their daughter’s family.
Eldine always worked outside the home, but family remained central.
Photos cover walls of the Maixner’s apartment.
Behind them on the couch is a large, framed photograph of the Ajax, Joe’s ship during WWII. Adjacent is an official portrait of Joe in uniform. In an oval picture frame rests a classic portrait of the couple from the early days.
Scattered around are photos of their son and daughter and their spouses, their grandsons, and even more of their five great-grandchildren.
Family has been a constant for Joe and Eldine, and so has faith. They drive to church when the weather permits.
Their daughter, Jeanne, is not surprised that her mother said faith was a key to the success of their marriage.
“Faith has been important to all of us, and they have shown that to all of us,” she said.
She and her husband will celebrate their 52nd anniversary on Feb. 20. Their sons have been married 18 and 21 years.
“They have just been an example to everybody,” Jeanne said. “Love, faith and family is what matters.”
Now that Joe and Eldine have reached the longest married milestone in Wyoming, they aspire to be married as long as the nation’s Longest Married Couple. The current record-holders live in Florida and are in their 100s, Eldine said.
They’ve been married 10 years longer than Joe and Eldine: “So we know 81 years is possible.”