When I contacted Leona Kremer about the auspicious occasion she and her husband, Joe, were about to celebrate, all the Gilbert native could do was laugh.
“I didn’t think being married 70 years was going to be such big news,” she said.
Fair enough, in this case. Such milestones may not seem all that unique when you’re born into one of the East Valley’s deepest family trees.
Leona, Joe, and their expansive lineage are just two years removed from celebrating the 75th birthday of Gilbert’s first-known set of triplets. That would be Irene, Lorene and Palvine Copple — Leona’s younger sisters, Irene today living in Utah with the others in Mesa — born May 2, 1935 on a farm on Elliott Road back when the town still had a population less than 800.
But this time, with their five children and about 150 family members and friends on hand, it was Leona and Joe’s turn at the center of the party, celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary at a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Hawes Road in Mesa.
That came a day after the Copples held a family reunion at the Country Inn and Suites in east Mesa attended by relatives from California, Oklahoma and Utah in addition to the Grand Canyon state.
Joe and Leona have lived in Prescott for most of their lives after moving in 1946 after Joe served in the Army during World War II. But four of the Kremers’ five children — daughters Patty Helvig, Becky Harvey, Debbie Merrell and Lana Kremer — live in Mesa, leading to the decision to hold the reunion and anniversary get-together where the family’s roots are. After Joe returned to Gilbert after the war, he had discovered that the farm where his family worked and lived had been sold.
Finding work took the couple to Prescott where they have lived since.
“It worked out real well,” said Joe Kremer, who will turn 90 in December. “There were a lot of people there, and we all had a good time.”
The couple still likes to dance — like they did 70 years ago — they still do their own yard work, and also still camp with friends.
Going back in time, When Joe was a young man, he used to deliver the weekly newspaper — the Gilbert Enterprise — to the Copple family. Amazingly, amidst the growth and change, the Copple family’s W. Washington Ave. home still stands today.
The Copples had 13 children, including the triplets and a set of twins, and Joe still remembers the news the triplets being born making the local paper.
But it wasn’t until a few years later that the 1941 graduate of Gilbert High School met Leona when he was working as a soda jerk — that’s what the sharp-dressed youngsters behind the soda counter at the drug stores were called — at the Gilbert Pharmacy. He noticed her when she was sitting on a log with a friend close to pharmacy located on Gilbert Road. They were just teenagers, and it was 1942.
Joe well remembers the day he first saw Leona.
He admitted it was love at first sight.
“I thought I hit the jackpot,” Joe said.
But he didn’t talk to her at that moment. He really didn’t know her, he said, and didn’t know what to expect.
Later that night, his friend, Charles Blakely, whose family owned service stations throughout the southwest, helped fix Joe and Leona up on a blind date. Blakely’s girlfriend, Pauline Arthurholt, and Leona were friends, and Joe had the car — a 1937 Buick, which made their dates more mobile.
For their first date, Joe and Leona joined Charles and Pauline dancing to the Plantation Ballroom at 24th and Washington streets in downtown Phoenix.
They hit it off, and many dates followed.
Joe and Leona got married about five months later — July 5, 1942 — by a justice of the peace in Chandler. Joe was 19, Leona was 16, but their families didn’t seem to mind when they got wind of them getting married on the sly.
The Kremers’ first child and only son, Leon, was born in 1943, and four daughters were to follow.
“In the beginning, it was real hard,” Leona said. “When the men were away at war, it was a scary time, because we didn’t know what was going to happen.
“Being able to stick it out for 70 years, I think it goes back to the examples you were raised by,” she noted. “Our parents worked hard and were dedicated to marriage, and so were we.”
Added Joe: “If there’s any discrepancy, you have to iron things out and not give up.”
In the years that followed, Joe worked in construction, for a cabinet shop, at Foxworth-Galbraith Lumber Co. — an East Valley staple — and later owned a floor covering company.
But through it all — the courtship, getting married, having kids, and leaving home for new adventures — both Joe and Leona agreed: It doesn’t seem like it’s been 70 years since they got married.
“It seems like everything went so fast,” Leona said. “It doesn’t seem like it’s been 70 years, but it’s also been a lifetime.”
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