What started as a school romance for Arlene Katherine Roberts and Derwood G. Keith in 1952 has developed into a relationship just about every married couple might consider miraculous — the Keiths celebrated 65 years of marriage June 19.
Although the two went to the same college, they never met and never went to high school together either — they simply found themselves courting when they started teaching in the Wilton schools that year.
Arlene was a second-year fifth grade teacher on one end of the building, and Derwood a new vocational agriculture instructor in the high school, as the two met at a teacher’s meeting, began dating and 65 years later, they’re still together, now living in the Simpson Village residencies in West Liberty.
Crediting their long life together to healthy living, strong communication and enjoying a lot of the same activities, the Keiths were married in the Wilton Methodist Church in what was then called Wilton Junction (now Wilton) in a Sunday evening service.
The couple has no trouble recalling fond memories of the day, from having cake and ice cream to celebrate the service (her father, Alvin Roberts, an Atalissa farmer) insisted there wasn’t going to be cake without ice cream) to a team of hearty FFA members Derwood taught lifting up the back of their highly decorated car when they were attempting to drive away for their honeymoon in Chicago, where they were entertained by the then famous McGuire Sisters trio. They even drove to Seattle for a family reunion during that week.
“It was really unusual to have ice cream. They typically just served cake at receptions.” Arlene said, noting it went well with the unique square four-tier wedding cake she’d ordered, making it easier to slice, and served on glass platters.
A total of 250 attended the reception at the Wilton City Hall, far different from today as there was no meal or even sandwiches. There was no band nor tables to sit around (except for the wedding party). But the couple does remember opening dozens of gifts, something that was tradition back then, before the reception ended after about four hours of socializing.
Arlene recalls it being a “very humid day” although people may not have realized how hot it was in those days before air conditioning.
The wedding party included three bridesmaids and groomsmen, not many of which are still alive today, decked out in white dress coats, the ladies carrying orchids.
“Those were good times,” said Derwood, saying teachers gathered monthly in those times, noting that’s how he got to know Arlene more and more, finally asking her to a FFA hayrack ride on their first official date.
“They talked about this teacher in the high school,” Arlene said, other teachers helping create the match.
Raised on a farm in Atalissa, Arlene had lost her mother when she was just 19 after graduating from Atalissa High School at the age of 16 in 1948. She attended Muscatine Community College and eventually Iowa State Teacher’s College in Cedar Falls (now UNI).
Although they had just met in September, Derwood proposed in December and they were married six months later. He said he knew she was going to be his bride.
Derwood, who was raised on a farm in Calamus, had served in the Air Force in Germany in World War II and went to Iowa State Teacher’s College as well, earning a master’s in education. He was 29 when they married. She was 23.
Success of marriage
The couple says the success of their long marriage is compromise. “It’s a 30/70 split.” Arlene said. “Sometimes it’s 30 percent my way and sometimes it’s 30 percent his way. It’s give and take.”
She said there are no two people who can agree on everything because they come from different backgrounds and although the couple admits to having their “disagreements,” there was never anything that would split them apart.
The couple said having goals and a budget was instrumental in guiding their life together while they also said having common interests was another key — both getting highly involved in the Masonic Lodge and Eastern Star as state leaders, and other organizations.
The Keiths said they’re puzzled by the lack of desire of young couples to work things out rather than split up and said even living together for years like many couples do today before marrying is concerning.
Arlene says the fact they were raised on a farm and the fact they were strong in their faith may have helped their marriage — both growing up with strong work ethics and learning to cope with problems. She said the fact many couples elect to have weddings outside the church at destination venues and use Internet anointed ministers weakens the seriousness of the moment.
The couple said working with a lot of kids through the years kept them busy, spending a lot of time with FFA members and fair projects, but Derwood also liked to dance and that kept them occupied as well. Arlene admitted she learned to dance at the roller skating rink in West Liberty.
The couple said they’ve also done a lot of traveling through the years, getting to Europe and just about every state in the U.S.
The couple didn’t have a big celebration for their anniversary, noting they had special parties at 25 and 50 years, dining together at a steak house in Iowa City.
The couple created a second career when they left teaching after nearly 25 years, (Arlene had also taught in Durant and Bennett) and moved to West Liberty in 1980, creating a flower and gift shop as well as an antique store in the former Masonic building downtown on Calhoun Street.
“I wanted to get into a business of my own,” Derwood said, noting there was no flower shop in the community at that time.
“We’re just thankful we’re together in our own home,” said Arlene, noting although they loved their giant two-story home on old Highway 6, they knew they had to settle into a smaller, easier to get around environment six years ago, finding Simpson Village.
With one of the longest marriages in the community still going strong, the couple hopes they continue to have many more good times together, noting there’s still love and romance in their lives.
The couple says they’re dependent on the “Good Lord” to keep their life and health together while they continue to “compromise,” including sharing chores, Arlene noting Derwood dried a lot of dishes in his lifetime before they had a dishwasher.