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September 22, 2013

The surprise of coming home

The Bruners have a marriage that started with a journey back to Indiana

After high school sophomore Geraldean “Jerry” Kilmer moved from Rochester to Logansport, she started riding the city bus to Logansport High School. It was on that bus when she first noticed high school junior, Robert “Bob” Bruner. She also noticed it was another girl who saved Bob a seat on the bus, and went on to notice he talked to that girl a lot. Jerry didn’t particularly like that. “I didn’t even know him,” Jerry said. “For some reason, it just irked me. I don’t know why.” There were other guys who rode the bus, but Jerry didn’t care about them. It was Bob who she had her eye on. Conversations she tried starting with Bob on the bus fizzled out quickly. “I was trying to get him to talk to me,” Jerry said. “I asked where to buy a class ring, and he said, ‘The jewelry store.’” It wasn’t until Jerry was a senior in high school, and Bob was out of high school, when things started to change. Bob started frequenting the drugstore Jerry worked at in Logansport. She worked at the soda fountain. “I liked her,” Bob said. “She was cute.” If the soda fountain’s ice cream was too hard, Bob would help Jerry scoop it. She thought he was very courteous. “He was just nice and gentlemanly and strong,” Jerry said. He showed those qualities when he found out that a boy in high school who had a crush on Jerry would punch her in the arm every time he saw her in the halls. Once Bob heard that was happening, he got ahold of the boy and told him to leave her alone. “That kinda impressed me,” Jerry said. Bob showed up at the drugstore’s soda fountain more often over the next several months to see Jerry before he asked her out on a date. “I was happy,” Jerry said. “I didn’t think he was that much into me until he asked me out on a date.” Their first date was in September 1945 to a murder mystery movie called “Ten Little Indians.” The pair would attend motorcycle races and high school football games as well as go to movies and Lake Cicott together. Neither had really dated a lot of people before they met each other. “I played sports a lot,” Bob said. “I was more interested in sports than I was girls at the time. She was never into sports and I was a sports nut.” “I told him he should’ve married a gym teacher,” Jerry joked. But it wasn’t a gym teacher Bob wanted to marry. He wanted to marry Jerry. “I liked her looks and I liked to be around her,” Bob said. “There was chemistry there.” One night on their way to get frozen custard, Bob pulled over to the curb and asked Jerry to marry him. He gave her a diamond ring. Jerry was surprised. She thought they were just going for ice cream. She’d already put her hair up in curlers for the night. But she said yes. Not long after their engagement, Bob was drafted into the Army. He had boot camp in Maryland, then Georgia. “Uncle Sam says go and you went,” Jerry said. “I missed [Bob].” A few months went by and Bob came home to Logansport on a leave from Georgia. From there, he went to California and was sent to Japan for about nine months. While he was in Japan, the engaged couple wrote to each other every day. Their letters weren’t particularly mushy. They just wrote down what they did that day. Their letter-writing went on for months until Jerry’s letters to Bob were returning to her. “I kept thinking: ‘What in the heck is wrong,’” she said. She was still receiving current letters from Bob, so she would just bundle up her returned letters and try sending them to him again. She didn’t know that Bob had a surprise in store for her. He was coming home. Bob had friends who were still in Japan sending Jerry his letters that he wrote before he left for the journey back home. Bob even made sure to pay attention to little details, like the date he put on his letters. “I’d put the date on them so she thought that was the date I wrote them,” he said. Jerry had no idea. “It never occurred to me he was pulling a sneaky on me,” she said. Jerry continued with her daily routine working at the drugstore’s soda fountain, without the slightest suspicion of Bob’s plan to surprise her by coming home. On one of these days, her routine of walking to the drugstore from her house was disrupted. “I thought I saw him walking down the street,” Jerry said. “I ran to the corner and yelled ‘Bob! Bob!’ And there was no one there. No one there at all. I swore I saw him walking down the street.” Jerry says it must have been a premonition because the next day, Bob returned home. The surprise worked. Jerry was thrilled and said there was a lot of hugging and kissing. The couple was happy to be reunited again, but Jerry wanted to be absolutely sure Bob was the one for her. “I wondered if I was just in love because he was in the Army and it was romantic, or if I really liked him,” she said. “I wanted to be sure it wasn’t the thrill of the war or the uniforms.” So she went out with another guy on a company picnic. The guy she was with thought he saw Bob while they were out so he slid down on the seat of the car – hoping to remain unseen. Even though Bob wasn’t there, Jerry immediately made up her mind. “I thought that did it,” she said. “I knew I liked Bob.” Bob and Jerry saved money and worked on building a house for two years until they got married July 8, 1948 at Rochester Baptist Church when they were both 20. Three years later, they bought their first TV. “Back then you didn’t have a lot of money to spend,” Jerry said. “It was kind of a big expenditure. It was a big deal.” The Bruners had three children: two girls and one boy, and the couple liked spending time with their family by going out for ice cream, playing with their kids, or playing cards at Bob’s mom’s house. They moved to Converse in 1957 and have lived there since. “We still laugh and like the same shows and do the same things,” Jerry said. The Bruners said communication has always been important in their household. “Even if they don’t like what you’re going to say, don’t lie,” Jerry said. “I can talk to him about anything and everything.” Jerry said she lied to Bob once about pumping gas in the car. She said she pumped gas when she really didn’t. “That was the only time I ever lied to him in 65 years,” she said. Jerry and Bob agree they never argued much during their marriage. “He never gets mad or blows up,” Jerry said. “If something happens, it happens. It’s not all Cleaver-family style. “You’re going to have disagreements.” “Don’t go to bed mad,” Bob said. “Don’t keep anything in your head. Just let it go, ‘cause you’ll be sitting there steaming and that’s not good.” Their 65 years of marriage have been full of highs and lows, but the Bruners say they’d do it all again and wouldn’t change a thing. The only thing they wonder is where all the time went. “I forget I’m this old,” Jerry said. “It surprises me when I look in the mirror and say, ‘Who’s that old lady?’ I don’t remember getting old.”

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