Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

February 2, 2014

Two become one

Bourffs have been married 57 years, but it wasn't love at first sight

By Kelly Lafferty
Kokomo Tribune

---- — Dan Bourff and Barbara Fretz shared just about every class together since 1938 when they were both in kindergarten.

But it would be more than a decade before they saw each other as more than just friends.

"This was never a love at first sight thing," Barbara said. "We knew each other too long."

They didn't know each other too well during those first few years at McKinley School. They didn't live in the same neighborhood, so they didn't run around in the same circles.

In fact, when they look through old photos from Barbara's parties during those early years, Dan is missing from them.

"I was just a stumblebum, I guess," Dan laughed. "She had all these kids’ parties and invited all these kids, but I'm not in any of those photographs."

Barbara said she didn't know him well enough to extend an invitation to him, and he also lived too far away from her Walnut Street home at the time.

"He was just a boy in the class," Barbara said. "I didn't think about him. He was a nice boy and everybody liked him, but not in a girl-boy way."

When they were 12, Dan's family moved onto Walnut Street, only 10 doors down from Barbara's family. Barbara was excited that someone she knew was moving onto the same street.

Still, there was nothing more than friendship between the two. At school, Barbara was one of the tallest in the class and Dan was the shortest. They never thought of being a couple.

"Nobody liked little Danny Bourff," Dan laughed. "I was a runt. I'd be the last guy picked for anything."

On Friday nights, groups of girls and boys would dance at the Congo Club at First Congregational Church in Kokomo. It was a way to keep kids off the streets. Barbara said Dan never asked her to dance, and Dan said he never had a lot of girls dancing with him.

"I didn't have a lot of boys asking me to dance either," Barbara said. "I was too tall and you were too little."

"How the big and the little got together, I don't have a foggy idea," Dan laughed.

During their junior year at Kokomo High School, they decided to change their relationship status to more than just friends. At Autumn Prom, a dance where the girls invited the boys, Barbara decided to ask Dan because she had started to like him.

"A lot of boys made fun of me for being the tallest, and he never did," Barbara said of Dan. "He was always polite and nice to me."

They had a great time at the dance and started dating after that. They went to movies and danced a lot at Kokie's Korner, a hang out spot for high school kids.

The two graduated from high school in 1951, and since they were both college-oriented, they agreed that they would go their separate ways and see other people. Dan was accepted at Indiana University and Barbara at DePauw. They'd visit each other a few times during their freshman year, until Barbara transferred to IU after her first year since she was unhappy at DePauw.

They started dating again, but broke up several times.

"It was just an on-off thing, but we kept coming back together," Barbara said.

The breakups were always mutual. They felt like their relationship wasn't going anywhere because there was no talk of commitment or the future. It just wasn't romantic anymore.

"We'd just been around for a long time," Dan said. "It was just like an old shoe."

They'd date others, but for Barbara, she'd always end up thinking about Dan in the end.

"When I'd get home at night, I'd kind of compare them," she said. "I thought, 'Oh my gosh, what am I doing? Dan's it.' I realized what a jewel Dan was compared to other guys. That time apart made us realize there was more there and we were taking each other for granted."

Dan agreed. He realized just how nice Barbara was and how pleasant she was to be around.

"Time grows well on people," Dan said. "Either for you or against you. It grew for us."

During halftime at an IU basketball game, after they got back together for the final time, Dan leaned over to Barbara and said they needed to talk. They went for a walk and ended up at the Well House, right in the middle of campus. Dan went on about how long they'd been together, then Barbara felt him slip a ring on her finger as he asked her to marry him.

"I of course said yes," Barbara said. "We hugged and we kissed and we laughed and we cried."

They were married at Grace United Methodist Church in Kokomo on July 1, 1956, when Barbara was 23 and Dan was 22.

"How we ended up falling in love and getting married is not something I would've thought of as a kid," Barbara laughed. "Not little Danny Bourff."

Dan was in basic training at the time, so he was only home for two weeks to get married. The next month he was sent to Germany, and Barbara flew out to join him soon afterwards. They lived in Ulm, Germany for a little over a year before coming back to Kokomo.

They bought their first house together on Walnut Street, in between the two houses they grew up in. Dan and Barbara raised their two children there together and agree that they've had a good marriage because they've honored the commitments they made with each other.

"We grew up in an era when divorce was very rare," Barbara said. "You got good times, you got bad times. You may not always like what they do, but you love them."

“If you love each other, it will be lasting,” Dan said.

Even when they both had major health issues during their 57-year marriage, through it all they've said to each other, "For better or worse."

"I don't know anyone else I'd rather spend my life with than him," Barbara said. "You're just joined at the hip and there's no other way."

They try to look at situations from each other's view and agree that they both have to give 100 percent to make their marriage work, even though it's not always easy to say I'm sorry.

"It's not all sugar-coated happy happy happy," Barbara said. "It's not always fun. Life throws you some curves."

"But you've got to be big enough to handle it," Dan said.

Listening and talking things out is a big reason for their successful marriage. They’re proud of the hard work they put in to building a lasting relationship.

"When you get married it's more of a physical thing," Barbara said. "As you grow older together, your love grows in a deeper way. You mold into one person."