Story last updated at 4:55 p.m. Thursday, October 24, 2002

Couple marks 6 decades together
by Carey James
Homer News

photo: news

  Photo by Carey James
Bob and Jo Carey pose Tuesday at the South Peninsula Hospital's Long Term Care Unit, where Jo volunteers as a senior companion. The hospital threw a party for the couple to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary.  
Instead of a one-day celebration for their 60th wedding anniversary, Bob and Norma Jo Carey have decided to celebrate the whole year. After all, with that many years together, one day just isn't enough.

The Careys, who have lived in Alaska for 30 years and Homer for four, joke that they've known each other all their lives. That's almost true, since they met in Pendleton, Ind., in junior high.

"As soon as kids were old enough to date, we did," Bob said.

In their junior year of high school, Bob presented Jo with a ring made from the solitaire diamond of a medal his late father received as a race car driver.

"I had to ask my parents if I could keep it," Jo said laughing. Her parents told her not to get any ideas, but that she could keep the ring.

On Oct. 25, 1942, the two were married shortly before Bob entered the Navy. She was 17 and he was 18.

Jo said her parents insisted she go to business college "just in case," which she did. But on the day of her first job interview, she found out she was pregnant with the first of six children.

After World War II ended, Bob returned to his wife in Indiana and began working on farms. In those early years, money was very tight, the couple said. Farm work brought in only $11.50 per week, and soon the couple had several mouths to feed on that salary. Despite the meager money, Bob said he always enjoyed hard work.

"Some people do hard work because they have to," he said. "I always did it because I wanted to."

In addition to tight finances, other challenges faced the Careys. Bob fell ill with rheumatic fever and spent three months in bed while Jo suffered from polio. Both, however, made a full recovery, and by the '60s, the two were interested in moving to Alaska.

Their children, however, were less intrigued by the Last Frontier, far from their friends. The family decided to wait until the children graduated, and meanwhile, Jo went back to school to become a teacher.

In preparation for their big move, the family bought a plane, and most of them, as well as any willing neighbors, learned to fly. In 1972, after the children had finished school, Jo and Bob flew to Alaska, where Bob took a job with an engineering firm.

Bob's idea had always been that he would homestead and his wife would work, but roles were reversed. In 1974, the two bought land on Whiskey Lake, near Skwentna, and built a vacation home. Five years later, they moved to the lake and Bob commuted 80 miles by plane to Anchorage and back each day. Jo substituted at the Skwentna School and worked as a substitute postmaster as well.

The life was remote, but suited the hard-working couple well.

"People who didn't know would always ask what we did out there," Jo said. "We kept the generators going, the wood cut, and gardened. All of that kept us very busy. I like to tell people I'm a retired ditch digger and stripper, because I stripped the logs for the house and stripped the airplane wings, too," Jo said with a chuckle.

The only disadvantage to living so far away from the road system was not being able to attend church regularly; something both said is a major part of their life.

The other major joy in their lives together has been their children. Five of the six wound up moving to Alaska around the same time the couple did, and some of the children and grandchildren lived with them on Whiskey Lake.

"Our greatest accomplishment is our kids," Jo said. "They all have families, and all the kids are reasonably happy. We were always a close family and did lots of things together. Family were the ones we liked to be with."

In 1998, they sold their lake property and moved to Homer, where health care was closer and life was a little easier. Even so, they keep busy with church, and volunteer work at the South Peninsula Hospital's Long Term Care unit and the Homer Chamber of Commerce.

"Coming here has been fantastic," Jo said. "People have adopted us."

As for their successful marriage, Jo and Bob say they have stuck together for so long because of a mutual commitment to each other and God. The couple said they have never had a serious argument in all their years together, and are looking forward to many more years together.

"Life's such a joy," Bob said. "Every year is better than the last."

Carey James can be reached at cjames@homer