Love story: Constructing a household from scratch: couple met as kids in an orphanage, received married at 18, and noticed the world collectively

Dona and John Clay’s first household expertise was removed from heartwarming.

This is without doubt one of the causes the couple cast their very own household with bonds that final 65 years and over.

They met on the Residence for Orphans of Odd Fellows in Philadelphia.

“My mom died after I was 3,” Dona mentioned. “My father put my sister and me within the orphanage after I was 8 and a half years previous. We by no means knew why he put us there.

On reflection, she assumes it occurred as a result of her stepmother received pregnant and was bedridden.

“We had been advised it will solely be for the summer time,” she mentioned.

However though his father visits him month-to-month, he by no means brings his daughters dwelling.

A couple of years later, John arrived, on the age of 10. It was 1947, and he and his youthful sister had been declared wards of the state.

“My father left, and my mom, nicely, she was negligent,” he remembers.

Neglecting to the purpose that Dona remembers telling her concerning the time his mom was gone for 3 days, and all he and his sister needed to eat was coconut cake.

Even so, he didn’t adapt nicely to orphanage life.

“He ran away the primary day and his mom introduced him again,” Dona mentioned.

Girls and boys had been housed individually, however noticed one another at mealtimes and on Sundays. Courting was prohibited, so Dona and John received to know one another after they began to satisfy on the water cooler in the primary eating room.

Actually, it was Dona’s sister who had caught his consideration.

“I needed to take her sister out, however she would not go except I took Dona,” John mentioned. “Then my sister needed to go. I ended up taking the three of them to the films.

His father was typically involved, however not often on the day of his go to. And his mother?

“You by no means knew when or if she would present up,” he says. “I used to be sitting all the way down to look out the window.”

The youngsters had been allowed to depart the orphanage after they graduated from highschool or enlisted within the army.

Dona, seven months older than John, graduated at 17 and moved to reside together with her grandmother. John did not like faculty and enlisted within the navy.

“I went again the following month to go to my sister and John, and he was gone,” Dona remembers. “However I used to be near his sister and I knew the place his mom lived.”

She found that he had enlisted within the Navy on August 4, 1954.

Although that they had by no means actually dated, they simply thought they might get married.

“I purchased her an engagement ring on the BX (Base Trade) after I received out of coaching camp,” John mentioned.

Plans for a summer time wedding ceremony had been reduce quick when the Navy despatched him to a college. Then Dona received a name.

“I’ve per week’s go away; Do you need to get married? ”John requested.

They had been solely 18 years previous and every needed to have a father or mother signal for them. With a three-day ready interval for blood checks and a license, they ended up getting married in the future and in the future for a honeymoon. They had been married on October 3, 1955.

“We had $ 5 within the financial institution,” Dona mentioned. “The little Baptist church we had been to gave us all the pieces for the marriage, and her father paid for an evening at a pleasant resort in downtown Philly.

They spent their honeymoon day as vacationers, visiting websites just like the Liberty Bell, which Dona had by no means seen. Then John left and Dona moved in together with her mom and sister.

Their daughter, Beth, arrived in 1957 and the next 12 months John left the Navy and enrolled in Chicago Engineering College.

“We had been ravenous,” he remembers. “Dona needed to discover a job in a financial institution.”

A neighbor checked out Beth till John got here dwelling from faculty. They did not have a automobile, so Dona took the elevated trains to work and again. The state of affairs was untenable, so John turned as soon as extra to the army – this time the Air Power.

“I enlisted as an E-4 in 1958, and so they instantly promoted me to E-5,” he mentioned. “I assumed possibly it was a superb outfit. Then they despatched me to Korea for 13 months. “

He should have left his spouse and daughter behind.

Upon his return, the Air Power advised him he may select his subsequent mission, so he selected Madrid, Spain. It was there that their son, John, accomplished their household in 1962.

Then he was despatched to Korea once more, with out his household. A number of actions, together with a stint in Japan, befell earlier than they had been separated once more. In 1970 John was despatched to Vietnam for a 12 months.

“We saved in contact by mailing us tapes,” Dona mentioned.

John left the Air Power in 1975, to be employed by the general public service to do the identical job. For nearly 22 years, he and Dona have traveled the world from the Philippines to Panama to Germany. A stint at Fairchild Air Power Base introduced them to the northwest and so they settled in Spokane in 1989.

He retired from the general public service in 1997, however continued to show electronics intermittently at North Idaho School till 2015. The kid, who had dropped out of highschool, had graduated in public administration throughout his commencement. keep within the air power.

Dona had discovered to play the piano on the orphanage and performed for the 9 Mile Neighborhood Church for a few years, usually instructing the piano to church kids of their dwelling.

The couple have all the time been lively. John raced and swam competitively within the Air Power, successful quite a few awards. He ran the Boston Marathon twice in his forties, competed in triathlons and embraced long-distance working, finishing a number of 50-mile races.

Now 84-year-old Dona and 83-year-old John take a stroll daily and put together for one more transfer – this time to Georgia to be close to their daughter.

As Dona mirrored on their 65 years of marriage, she mentioned army life made them versatile and rising up in an orphanage made them really feel grateful.

“It was tough to be separated when he was overseas,” she says. “However you do what you need to do, and we had been so completely satisfied to be collectively once more when he returned.”

John nodded.

“I respect his knowledge and his love for me,” he mentioned.

Of their front room in West Plains, surrounded by images of their youngest kids, Dona smiles.

“We grew up collectively and we grew previous collectively.”


Cindy Hval could be reached at [email protected]

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