Advice from local couples who have been sweethearts for more than 50 years

By Rich Wicks| Panora Times

Author Fawn Weaver is quoted as saying, “A great marriage isn’t something that just happens; it’s something that must be created.”

February is traditionally the month of love. In this month’s cover story, we feature three stories on local couples who have worked to create marriages that have stood the test of time. These couples have endured challenges and celebrated victories together, and they’ve done it all through love.


Marshall and Linda Burgess

Marshall and Linda Burgess

Lifelong Panora residents Marshall and Linda Burgess shared their lifetime love story.

“We went all through school together. We knew each other since kindergarten,” Marshall said. “We were what you would call high school sweethearts and went together from about the time we were sophomores and both graduated from Panora-Linden. We were the second class to graduate from there. 

“I guess when I knew I really wanted to marry her was when I got separated from her when I was in the service. The old saying, ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder’ is pretty true,” said Marshall. “I went up to Bemidji, Minnesota, to college my first year out of high school and played football up there. Then, around Christmas time, I went and joined the Air Force. I went through basic training and school, and then we decided to get married about halfway through that. I came home on a leave, and we got married, and we went back to Biloxi, Mississippi. We got married in July of 1965.”

Linda recalled that the absence gave her a chance to gain perspective.

“It does give you time to think about it and search your heart,” she said.

Marshall recalled his unusual method of popping the question.

“I actually wrote her a letter and asked her to marry me,” Marshall said. “And she wrote me back and said she would.”

Marshall worked for the Iowa Air National Guard for 21 years.

“That job took me all over the world,” he said. “Luckily, I never had to be gone for a year. I think maybe 45 days was the longest I was ever gone. You realize how much you miss your wife and can’t wait to get back home.”

The military threw another challenge at the couple, as Marshall was unable to come home for the date they planned for their wedding. The ceremony was pushed back a week, even though invitations and announcements had already been sent out with the original date.

The young couple spent time living in Biloxi and later in New Jersey for three years. Those settings exposed them to a world much wider than they had known in Guthrie County. They had time to make new friends and to grow closer as a couple.

Linda recalled a special opportunity that came along due to Marshall being in the military.

“Right before he got out of the Air National Guard, they had a deployment to Hawaii,” she said. “Many of the wives took that trip, and that was a trip of a lifetime for me. It was like that honeymoon that we didn’t get to have.”

Over the years, their family has grown. 

“We have two grown daughters, Julie and Heather,” said Linda.

She added that they now have three grown grandchildren, Alex, Emma and Avery. So far, Marshall and Linda don’t have any great-grandchildren.

“But we’re still hoping,” Linda said.

“We both now are retired, but not retired,” said Linda. “I have the antique shop uptown, and Marshall has a home repair business that we continue to work part-time. 

“We love the community and the people in it. It really is a blessing to live in a small town and have people care about you. And the glue that holds everything together is the Lord in our life. When we both got born again, He’s been the one that kept us together and prosperous.”

Linda shared her advice to young couples considering marriage.

“This is the key,” said Linda. “When you take vows, that’s a covenant. For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do you part. It comes back to honoring those vows.”


Gary and Norma Louk

Gary and Norma Louk

Yale residents Gary and Norma Louk shared memories of their lifetime together. 

“On March 4, we’ll have been married 64 years,” said Gary.

Both Norma and Gary said they feel fortunate to have been married this long, because they know most couples don’t get the chance to be together for that duration.

Recalling how they met in 1958, Gary said he and a friend from Jefferson were “roaming around” and came to this area, where he met Norma.

“I asked her if she’d like to go out, and she said yes,” Gary said. “She was a senior in high school, and I was working at an elevator up in Jefferson.”

Although the couple dated for two years before getting married, it didn’t take that long for Norma to realize she had found her “keeper.”

“I knew right away,” she said.

Throughout their marriage, dancing has been a favorite activity for the couple. Years ago, they went to local dances nearly every chance they got. Another favorite pastime was taking the family to spend long weekends at the lake.

After working as a hired hand, then farming and working at the elevator, Gary opened up a business.

“Another guy and I were kind of motorcycle nuts, so I ran a Yamaha motorcycle shop from about 1966 to 1984 right here in Yale,” said Gary.

Norma worked at a few jobs over the years but said she enjoyed working at the grocery store most of all, since she got to interact with so many local people.

Gary developed a hobby as a motorcycle hill climb competitor, so the couple spent time going to those events. Eventually, the aging process and various motorcycle-related injuries convinced Gary to spend less time riding motorcycles and more time at the lake. They also raised a family. Gary and Norma now have four kids, seven grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. 

Norma now has a medical condition that requires dialysis on a daily basis. Gary has learned the process so  he can keep his wife at home while providing the care she needs. Their daughter, Debbie, also lives with the couple, and she helps out managing the household.

Gary and Norma don’t have any specific secret to making their marriage last. 

“You’ve just gotta love each other,” said Norma.


Doyle and Jeri Jean Motsick

Jeri Jean and Doyle Motsick

Doyle and Jeri Jean met when they both were attending school in Panora, but they can’t put a definite date on when they first became aware of each other.

“We went clear through grade school and high school together, one year apart,” said Doyle.

“It was a small enough school that everybody knew everybody,” Jeri Jean said. “We started dating the summer before his senior year and before my junior year.”

After dating for about three years, the couple married with the ceremony at Panora Church of the Brethren.

“We were married Aug. 16, 1964,” Doyle said. “And nobody lets me forget that, but it’s probably the greatest thing that’s happened to me.”

The couple remembered a humorous incident from their wedding.

“They didn’t throw rice; they threw shelled corn,” Doyle said.

“And it hurt a little bit,” added Jeri Jean.

Doyle proudly shared that he and his wife farmed for 59 years. He explained that, in the earlier years, they had livestock, but as the years went by, they gradually focused on growing grain.

“I helped. I worked the ground ahead of the planter, and then I helped with the harvest in the fall,” said Jeri Jean.

The Motsicks also grew their family during those years.

“We have three daughters,” Jeri Jean said. “And, by the way, they all graduated from Iowa State, and then they married guys who graduated from Iowa State. We’ve got five grandchildren. And now we have our first great-grandchild. She’s 3 months old.”

Although farming is a difficult lifestyle, the Motsicks are proud and glad to have spent their lives in that occupation and in this area. 

“I don’t know of anywhere I’d rather live than where we do,” said Doyle. “This has satisfied all of our needs.”

Because farming is a labor-intensive occupation, the Motsicks stayed busy but also found time to occasionally get away.

“We don’t do a lot of traveling, but we did have several trips through the western states, the Rocky Mountains and out that way,” said Doyle. “We did have one Alaskan cruise that we really enjoyed.”

Doyle had a part-time job with a CPA firm for about 20 years.

“That fit into the time of year when there wasn’t as much to do on the farm, through tax season,” he said.

“I had some part-time jobs but not until our youngest daughter was almost through high school,” Jeri Jean said.

The Motsicks are proud of the crops they grew over their decades of farming but are even more proud of the family they’ve raised. They are nostalgic about the family values that a farming community helps to instill.

“We knew all of our neighbors, and we probably even knew the name of their dog,” Doyle said. “We cherish those memories.”

“Everybody got married younger back then,” Jeri Jean said. “As I look back now, wow, we were just kids.” 

The Motsicks have managed to make it work and stay together through decades of changes. They have advice for young couples beginning a life together.

“They need to enter into the marriage as a compromise, because, inevitably, there are going to be things that come up,” said Doyle. “And if you’re not willing to work out a compromise with your partner, you’re not going to be happy. And if you’re not happy, the relationship is not going to be successful.”

Looking back, the couple voices no regrets.

“It wasn’t always a walk in the park, but we worked through it and did whatever we needed to make it work. We’ve lived in this community all of our lives,” Doyle said. “We were each raised on a farm, so we knew if we chose that occupation what it was going to require. I’ve never regretted it, and I don’t think Jeri Jean has either. It’s been a wonderful life.”