By Kelly Lafferty Kokomo Tribune
---- — Don Winger was well into his sophomore year of high school in Sweetser when his family moved to a new farm in a new school district in Howard County. He started attending Jackson Township High School about a month before the school year ended.
The sophomore class was small. There were 10 total students in that grade, including Don. It was an even match of five boys and five girls. One of the five girls was Judy Pyke, who said that she noticed Don, but that was only because he was a new boy at a small and rural school.
“I walked into the assembly room and she said, ‘Ah!’” Don joked.
“No I didn’t,” Judy laughed. “That first few months after he moved, I never paid attention to him.”
Don didn’t particularly pay much attention to Judy either.
“There were just a lot of good lookin’ girls,” he said. “I didn’t have any first sparks for Judy. I had kind of paid attention to the older girls instead of the girls in our class.”
Their sophomore class would usually run around in a big group and have a lot of class parties. Sometimes they would throw bonfire parties in the woods.
“That was your social life when you lived on a farm,” Judy said. “You didn’t have much social life outside of church and school.”
Don and Judy got better acquainted during their junior year after he took her home from junior play practice. All the other boys in the class had taken her home before, but Don hadn’t yet.
“He was kind of cute,” Judy observed of Don. “He had a pretty wave in his hair.”
“I liked her looks and I liked her smile,” Don said of Judy
He asked her out. Their first date grew to more and more dates. They would go to church youth group meetings on Sunday evenings, watch shows in Kokomo, get a burger at Wolfcales, and go see big band concerts at the air base.
“We were just plain and simple country kids who enjoyed life and each other and our friends,” Don said.
Their love grew.
“We grew up alike,” Judy said. “We think alike.”
After they graduated high school in 1944, they were busy with work. Judy got a job at a government day care center in Kokomo until it closed when the war ended. Then she worked at Knipes Florist in Kokomo. Meanwhile, Don was working on the farm as well as at Chrysler during the afternoon shift. When he got off work, he’d pick her up from the florist to take her home, that way they got to see each other for a little while.
In July 1945, while Don was working with his dad by a farm building, he spontaneously decided he wanted to propose to Judy.
“I didn’t think about it a whole lot,” he said. “I told my dad I’m going to go to town and get Judy a ring tonight. He said, ‘Okay.’”
The couple hadn’t discussed marriage at all, but Don knew it was the perfect time.
“It kept growing and growing and it just felt right,” Don said. “I just never thought about anybody else that way. She’d really been the only one for years.”
It took a lot of his work’s pay to buy a ring.
“He baled hay all summer to buy me a ring,” Judy said.
“My summer’s work went into that little piece of jewelry,” Don said. “The only money I had was this check from my neighbor who paid me. The jewelry store took the check as payment. You couldn’t do that now.”
The plan was to wait a year after they were engaged to get married. However, the plan changed when a few months later a farmer rented land and a house to Don. The couple decided not to wait and got married sooner.
“By him renting this farm, we decided why wait?” Judy said. “We have a home. We have a place to live.”
Don and Judy were married Dec. 1, 1945 at Kokomo Zion United Methodist Church when they were both 19.
“Everybody got married younger back then,” Judy said. “It wasn’t pushed as much then to go to college. Back then, our lives were much more sheltered than young kids are today. We weren’t exposed to all the stuff [young kids are] exposed to today.”
According to Judy, they had a fair-size wedding for that time, and the place was decorated with flowers from her employer, Knipes Florist.
“Our reception wasn’t like receptions now,” Judy said. “We had cake and punch and nuts and mints.”
The newlywed couple lived with Judy’s parents for three months until they were able to move into a new house three miles down the road.
“We were happily married,” Judy said.
“And most the time since then,” Don joked.
“All the time since then,” Judy laughed.
The Wingers would work together all the time on the farm, and they said they had a lot of fun doing that. They particularly enjoyed picnics together at lunchtime out in the field or under a tree.
“To start out, money wasn’t an issue. We didn’t have any,” Don laughed.
“We worked hard and did well,” Judy said.
They lived at their first house for four years until they found a new farm to rent. After moving several more times, the Wingers moved to a farm and house they’ve been living in since 1977. Even though they moved multiple times, it was never very far.
“We’ve always lived on 400 or off of 400 all these years,” Judy said. “So 400 is our road.”
Their three children and most of their grandchildren, and great grandchildren live within several miles of them too.
“We’re what you call the family farm,” Judy said. “We really are. If there was one, we are it.”
The Wingers have spent time together involved in church activities and have gone on several mission trips to Africa and South America.
Now, 67 years later, they don’t know where the time has gone.
“We were busy doing things we’re happy with,” Judy said. “Our marriage has been blessed.”
“You never thought about when you get married, how long you’d be married,” Don said. “We used to go around holding hands because we’re in love, and now we hold hands to keep each other up.”
The Wingers say the reason why their marriage has lasted so long is because that’s the way they wanted it.
“When we got married, we got married with the thought we were going to stay married,” Judy said. “Marriage is hard work sometimes. You really have to work at it. Get married with the idea you’re going to make it work.”
“We took our vows seriously,” Don said. “We expected it to be forever. I’m kind of surprised forever hasn’t ended already, as old as we are.”
They agree it hasn’t always been easy, but by being supportive to one another, it has worked out.
“We growl at each other once in a while,” Judy said. “We’re not perfect. They’re always little growls, not big growls.”
The Wingers say it takes a little more patience with each other since they aren’t as physically able as they were years ago.
“We’ve sort of changed how we do things in our older years,” Judy said. “We do things to help each other.”
Don considers Judy very kind, compassionate, and loving.
“She’s always been supportive in the things going on and always been a positive person about everything. I’ve always appreciated that.”
Judy says Don is very thoughtful and caring.
“One of the sweetest things he does is he gets me breakfast,” Judy said. “It’s not too hard; he gets a cereal box, pours juice, makes the coffee, and calls me in for breakfast. Sometimes he makes bacon and eggs.”
At the end of each meal, Don puts away the dishes and Judy puts away the food.
“Day by day you do what you need to do,” Judy said. “We’ve always been happy together and we’re still happy together.”
“We’ve lived probably in the best of times; if there’s ever been,” Don said.
“He’s a good man,” Judy said of Don. “I’d pick him all over again.”