Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

December 29, 2013

The girl next door

Elmer Byers and Kathy Tilley were next-door neighbors when the teens fell in love

By Kelly Lafferty
Kokomo Tribune

---- — Elmer Byers and Kathy Tilley were next-door neighbors when they started dating in 1950.

Kathy’s parents were originally renting a house from Elmer’s grandparents, but ended up moving next door when Elmer’s parents bought the house to take care of the grandparents. Once Elmer moved in with his family, he immediately noticed Kathy.

“She was a cute little dickens,” he said of Kathy, who was four years younger than him.

Elmer would make it his mission to talk to Kathy whenever she was outside.

“She’d be out in the yard and I’d come over to the fence and I’d make sure we’d talk to each other,” he said.

Thirteen-year-old Kathy never paid much attention to Elmer’s flirtations at first, but she thought he was friendly and nice-looking.

“I hadn’t really thought too much about boys at that time,” she said.

Six months later, her feelings began to change when Elmer asked her to go on a Halloween hayride with his church youth group. Her parents allowed her to go, and it was the first date of many for Elmer and Kathy.

When they weren’t talking to each other over the fence, they went to drive-in movies together and visited with friends as they drove around the square in downtown Kokomo. During school, Elmer came to Kokomo High School to pick up Kathy to get lunch at a restaurant called My Grill.

“They couldn’t keep us apart,” Kathy laughed.

Their parents weren’t as thrilled that the couple was seeing so much of each other.

“They’d kinda get peeved at us when we’d talk over the fence,” Kathy said. “They thought I was too young.”

As for Elmer and Kathy, they loved the fact that they lived next to each other.

“It was too convenient,” Elmer laughed. “I would watch and see when she’d go outside so I could go out there also.”

Elmer and Kathy dated for a year before they were married.

“She just matched up with what I wanted in a person,” Elmer said of Kathy.

Kathy was 15 and Elmer was 19 when they were married at a minister’s house off Market Street on Aug. 7, 1952.

They were very close to each other when they were teenagers, but it wasn't just that bond that prompted them to get married. Kathy found out she was pregnant.

Her parents were supportive of the union, even though her dad was unsure about Kathy marrying so young. Kathy wanted to be married when the baby arrived, though.

“I thought it was the right thing to do,” she said.

They had to get permission from a judge to wed since Kathy wasn't yet 16.

“I never really was a teenager,” Kathy said. “When you’re 15, you’re not thinking about getting a house. It wasn’t an easy life. It was hard. It was going to be something new because I’d never been away from home or anything.”

She dropped out of high school, and the newlyweds moved into her parents’ house where there was no running water. They had to get water from Elmer’s parents next door and heat it on the stove. Elmer was in between jobs, and their first baby was born a week before he got his first paycheck.

“We lived primitive,” Elmer said.

They had a lot of help from their parents when they were married, but it was still a rough financial start for the young couple. Through it all, they said that their relationship never suffered.

“I always thought whenever I get married I’m gonna make a go of it,” Kathy said. “I was ready to grow up.”

By the time Kathy turned 20, the couple had had four girls, and soon another three baby girls joined the Byers family. They moved to bigger homes to accommodate their growing family. Elmer worked long hours to try and provide enough money for them.

“It didn’t seem like I was making anything,” he said.

“Back in those days you were lucky to make three or four thousand dollars a year,” Kathy said. “That’s not a lot of money to raise a family.”

While Elmer was busy at work, Kathy was just as busy taking care of their seven daughters. It was hard for the young mother at times.

“It wasn’t easy trying to raise them, and it was mainly by myself,” Kathy said. “He came home long enough to eat and sleep before he was gone again.”

Even though they had their fair share of financial problems, Elmer and Kathy said they rarely fought about anything in those days. Life started to get a little bit easier to handle for the Byerses. In fact, after their youngest daughter graduated, Kathy went back to school and got her GED.

There were many happy moments during their marriage, but there have been some sad ones, too. Over the years, the Byerses have lost four of their girls.

“It wasn’t easy,” Kathy said. “It was very hard. Out of the seven, we still have three living.”

Kathy and Elmer became very depressed and their relationship with each other suffered because of it.

“It kinda drew us apart instead of closer together,” Kathy said. “I don’t know how we did it. I guess it was just the Lord who helped us get through it. Otherwise we would not have made it.”

Moving into a smaller house also helped the Byers cope with their losses, and it helped them become close to each other again.

“At the house there were so many memories and moving got us away from that,” Kathy said.

These days Kathy and Elmer never like to be without each other.

“It’s more relaxed,” she said. “Back then it was a lot more hectic. Now you have more time to really enjoy each other than you did.”

They’ve been married for 61 years, and Elmer says he would recommend it to anybody.

“That kind of relationship is the best there is,” he said.

Elmer and Kathy have been through a lot in their marriage, but they said they never thought about calling it quits.

“It seems like young couples now, when they have a quarrel they say that’s it and they run to a lawyer and start divorce proceedings,” Kathy said. “You gotta learn to get along with each other and work your problems out.”

The Byerses certainly learned how to solve their problems together.

“You both can’t be right and you both can’t be boss,” Kathy said. “With compromising, you’re working through your problems together and not finding fault with the other all the time.”

After more than six decades of marriage, the Byerses enjoy reflecting on all the ups and downs of their life together.

“It’s neat being able to go through everything over the years and survive it all after 61 years later,” Kathy said.