by Elyse Kaner
He calls her Grandma, she calls him Buster.
Thanks to the good Lord and longevity in their family lineage, Grandma and Buster aka Laura and Laurence Johnson July 20 celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary.
They also celebrated Laura’s 85th birthday with family and friends at Anoka Covenant Church, where she has been a member since she was three years old.
“It doesn’t seem like 65 years, but we had a wonderful wedding and throughout the years, we have had a wonderful marriage,” Laura said at the couple’s quaint home in Dayton, bedecked with flowers and plants inside and out, and a vast array of family photos proudly displayed on their living room coffee table.
HE ASKED HER TO DANCE
The couple had known of each other through their siblings but officially met when Buster, fondly named after a favorite horse of his father’s, spotted Laura at a dance. It was after a basketball game. The dance was at the Knights of Columbus in Anoka.
“Well, if you want to meet somebody, you get out and meet them,” said Buster, 87, a man of few but important words, who asked Laura to trip the light fantastic that night long ago.
Three months later, they were married.
The proposal? Short and sweet.
They were in Buster’s 1936 Ford coupe, taking a spin around the countryside.
“He said he loved me, I said I love you, too,” Laura said. She was 20 years of age, he was 22.
They married in Laura’s church, at the time called the Anoka Mission Covenant Church, located on Polk Street.
They honeymooned in Canada just beyond the border.
Laura recalls when driving to their destination, the Ford’s windshield wipers broke. It was her job to keep them going – by hand while Buster drove.
“It rained the whole time,” she said. “It even rained during the wedding.”
FAITH IS BEDROCK OF UNION
More than six decades later, the Johnsons’ marriage thrives.
The couple credit the long run to their steadfast faith in God, close family ties, mutual honesty and never going to sleep angry with one another, Laura says.
Buster sums it up succinctly.
“Give your life to God and then go from there,” he says.
Laura was born in Anoka and raised by her grandmother and father. Her mother lived to be 94. Her father, a carpenter by trade, was 86 when he died. Laura attended Washington Elementary School and Anoka junior and senior high schools.
Buster was born in Grand Rapids. His family moved to a farm in Nowthen shortly after. When he was five, his family moved again to a farm in Dayton. Buster attended an elementary school at the old Dayton Town Hall in what was then part of District 37. He went to Anoka High School for three years and at the age of 18, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He served for two years at such spots as Pearl Harbor, China, Japan and Guam.
Buster’s mother died in her early 70s, his father lived into his mid 80s.
FROM ANOKA TO DAYTON
Starting their married life together, the Johnsons rented an apartment above the KC Hall in Anoka, the same place they danced together months earlier. But because the dance hall downstairs didn’t have a bathroom, they had to share the only upstairs bathroom with people who attended the dances. The newlyweds stayed at the apartment for six months and then moved in with Buster’s parents in Dayton. They next rented a place across from the old Anoka High School while Buster and Laura’s dad built their current home, which took a year to finish. They built the home as the money came in.
Laura was working at the Twin City Arsenal in New Brighton, Buster was a cabinet maker. He also crafted church pews. He later took a job with Norris Creamery in south Minneapolis, where he bottled milk for 34 years.
They were married eight years before they had children. The couple have four daughters, Diane Gilpin, Linda Loesch, Nancy Kise and Debbie Aaberg. They have 10 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.
After bearing four girls, Laura lost five children in early pregnancies and at birth.
At age 40 Laura decided to become a nurse. She had always wanted to be one. Her grandmother was a midwife, who delivered many babies in Anoka. Laura started out as a nurse aide sanitizing surgical equipment at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids. She returned to school at Hennepin Technical College and went on to become a licensed practical nurse. She remained at Mercy for 25 years.
Three of her daughters have followed in Laura’s footsteps. Nancy is a registered nurse at North Memorial Hospital in Robbinsdale and Diane is a registered nurse at the University of Minnesota Hospitals. Linda, at age 52, is now studying to become a nurse.
“They act like newlyweds,” said Linda, second from the oldest daughter. “They can’t be apart from one another after all these years. That’s unique. You don’t see that.”
Linda describes her parents as a couple who are willing to compromise. Buster buys Laura little gifts and flowers. He takes special pains when picking out greeting cards to ensure the message is just right for his bride.
When illness or misfortune strikes, they are a beacon of support for each other.
“They have both become caretakers for one another,” Linda said. “They’re still lovebirds.”
In the last several years, Buster has been dealt some health setbacks. He suffered a stroke six months after he retired in 1986. In 2010, he underwent open heart surgery.
Keeping her marriage vows in mind, Laura, the consummate nurse and loving mate, faithfully remains at his side and promises to take care of him for as long as possible, said Marlene Johnson, Buster and Laura’s sister-in-law, who has known the couple for more than 50 years.
“She is so attentive to him,” Marlene said. “Especially since he’s been sick. She’s just like a shadow.”
Donna Freundl met Laura and Buster at their church in 1971. She and her late husband Bob Freundl used to camp together with the Johnsons, celebrate holidays together, stop for coffee after choir practice and go out for brunch after Sunday morning church services.
She describes the Johnsons as a fun, committed couple, who respect one another.
“Back in our day, we took our vows and we took them seriously,” she said. “It was until death do you part.”
“They always thought of each other and the family and not just of themselves. I think that’s probably what kept them together – that and their commitment to the Lord.”
A ‘WONDERFUL’ MARRIAGE
Ask Laura about her long and successful relationship with Buster and she has much to say. “It’s been wonderful to be married for 65 years,” she said. “He’s always been a caring father. He was there for me when we lost the kids. He’s very easy going.”
Buster, the man of few words, returns the compliment.
“She’s wonderful,” he said. “She’s a very caring mother. She has a big heart.”
One more thing that has contributed to the Johnsons’ marital bliss.
They’re best friends. They hug often.
“At night I always kiss him and say ‘I love you,’” Laura said.
“And I say it right back,” Buster said.
Short and sweet.
Contact Elyse Kaner at [email protected]