Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

September 1, 2013

The love of a lifetime

The Coonrods celebrate 60 years of marriage

By Kelly Lafferty Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — Joanna Rich left Clay County, Tenn. with her cousins when she was 19 to come to Kokomo in hopes of finding a job. She had graduated high school, there were no jobs in Tennessee, and she didn’t have enough money for college.

She got a job at Delco in December of 1952, within weeks of another new Delco employee, Charles Coonrod.

Joanna first noticed him when he was talking to her coworker, Laura.

“I asked Laura, ‘Who was that cute guy?’” Joanna said.

Laura introduced the two, and they agreed to meet up for coffee after work one day.

“I didn’t know I was that bold,” Joanna said. “I thought I was shy.”

“You needed glasses then, you just didn’t know it,” Charles joked.

They talked a few times, and about a week later, they went on their first date to “Ice Capades” in Indianapolis.

“She was number one,” Charles said. “She was really nice-looking; a real nice girl. I’d been out with others, not many, but she was the best one I’d had a date with.”

Their dates were going well. They went on double dates and watched a lot of movies at the theater together, but there was one thing that Joanna just couldn’t keep track of.

“I was dating this guy, but I couldn’t remember his last name,” she said. “His last name was foreign to me. My last name was Rich.”

After a few dates, she made it her mission to remember his name, and she succeeded.

“I really got a fooling,” Charles joked. “I thought she was a rich girl. She was, but that was only her name.”

Charles and Joanna were very attracted to each other. Charles thought Joanna was cute, and Joanna thought he was very handsome.

“He always treated me real nice,” Joanna said. “He’d open the car door for me. He still does. Sometimes he slams it, but he still opens it,” she laughed.

One of their most memorable dates was a double date to Chicago, for a baseball game. Joanna, who was living with her cousins at the time, offered to fix Charles breakfast the morning before they left for Chicago. Her cousins were out of town, so she had the place to herself.

She didn’t have time to do the dishes before they left, so she left them in the sink. Her cousins came back that day, saw the dirty dishes, and thought Charles had spent the night. They asked her about it when she got back that night.

“I said ‘No way, he didn’t stay all night,’” Joanna said. “If he had, I would’ve put things back. I would’ve been more careful.”

Charles really enjoyed spending time with Joanna, but there were others who didn’t give her the time of day since she was from Tennessee.

“A lot of people thought we were less people,” Joanna said. “I wasn’t good enough. They considered me a hillbilly. They thought they were better than me.”

Not everyone was like that, but the people who ignored her or made hillbilly jokes when she was around.

“It took me a long time to realize, ‘Hey, I’ve got enough education as these people and my reputation is spotless,’” Joanna said. “So I told myself, ‘I gotta get over it.’”

The couple went on a trip to see Joanna’s family in Tennessee, and her parents took an immediate liking to Charles. They thought he was a keeper.

It wasn’t too long after that trip when Charles thought it was the right time to buy a ring and ask an important question.

“One night he’d told me he loved me, and I told him I loved him of course,” Joanna said. “Then he put the ring on my finger and said ‘When are we gonna get married?’ He never asked me to marry him.”

“I guess I didn’t need to ask you to marry me because you did,” Charles laughed.

Since they were both 19 years old, they had to get written permission in order to marry. In Indiana, you had to get parental consent to get married until you were 21.

Even though Joanna’s parents liked Charles, Charles’ mother wasn’t as fond of Joanna. She didn’t want Charles to get married because he was young. She refused to sign the papers to give the couple consent to wed.

Charles told his mother that they would find a way to get married no matter what, even if that meant getting married out-of-state. They didn’t have strict marriage laws in Kentucky or Tennessee in the early 1950s.

She eventually signed the papers.

“She knew we were gonna do it whether she signed or not,” Charles said.

After dating for six months, they were married north of Burlington at the Rose of Sharon Parsonage June 26, 1953.

“I knew I wanted to be with him all the time,” Joanna said.

They described their wedding as simple. They had six people total: the two of them, the preacher and his wife, and Charles’ best friend and his best friend’s girlfriend who stood up with them during the ceremony. They traveled to Tennessee for a long weekend after they were married.

“We didn’t have a lot of money even though we were both working,” Charles said. “Wages were different back then than they are now. Don’t expect to have what your folks have right now when you get married. You gotta work to get it. You don’t realize it’s probably taken your folks 30 or 40 years to get the stuff they have.”

They moved into an apartment in Kokomo, where they only lived for a year because it was so cold the water froze.

Joanna couldn’t stand living there anymore, so she took it upon herself to find a new place to call home.

One Saturday when Charles was visiting his buddies in Russiaville, Joanna asked her cousin to help her find a new place. They looked in the newspaper and found a little house for rent. They went out to see it, and Joanna decided on the spot to rent it.

“When he came home from Russiaville, I told him we were moving,” she said.

“What could I say,” Charles laughed. “I was surprised.”

They were both glad to be getting out of the apartment and into a better place.

“It was just a cute little dollhouse,” Joanna said. “It was small and cozy, and we were really happy there.”

There wasn’t much happiness to be had four days before their third wedding anniversary. That was the day Charles was drafted into the Army.

He went in the service for two years, where he spent the first year in basic and school, and the second year in Korea.

While he was training in Missouri, Joanna would go out and visit him for a few weekends, since Charles was unable to come back to Indiana.

“It was too far to come home,” Charles said. “I didn’t have a vehicle and I didn’t hitchhike. I could’ve, but I might not have made it back.”

It wasn’t easy for the couple who was used to seeing each other very regularly for the past three years.

“I was lost,” Joanna said. “Just lost. I was by myself and not used to living by myself.”

A lot of times she visited an aunt who lived in Tipton, which helped her a lot.

Charles didn’t like being away from home, but he didn’t have much time to think about it, since basic training kept him so busy.

After 16 weeks, he was sent to Virginia for more training. Joanna moved there with him.

“I was happy any place because he was there,” she said.

He eventually got orders to go to Korea, where he stayed for a year.

“I couldn’t go that time,” Joanna said. “That was terrible. I went back to Delco and worked and worked.”

It wasn’t fun for Charles either.

“I kept busy over there and that helped a lot,” he said. “But you still had plenty of time to think. It was long and lonely. Although we got a lot of letters back and forth it was a long year.”

The couple kept in contact the best they could during that long year.

“It was just letters, letters, letters,” Joanna said. “No telephone calls. No emails.”

Once he found out when he’d be coming back, he let Joanna know, and they agreed that she would drive to California, which was where the guys Charles served with were getting out. He figured that’s where he would get out too.

Joanna and her grandmother drove across the country and stayed at an aunt’s house who lived in California.

All didn’t go according to plan. When Charles got out, the government decided to let him out in Illinois, not California.

“If I had kept my mouth shut, we could’ve gotten to see each other quicker,” he said.

He got on the next flight to Los Angeles, and the couple finally had a joyous reunion.

They returned to Kokomo and built a house at Ind. 26, where they had two children, a boy and a girl.

Over the years, the Coonrods have enjoyed traveling to national parks and going fishing together.

“When you see one of us, you usually see both of us,” Joanna said.

More recently, they’ve each taken on the role of a caregiver.

“She’s a good nurse,” Charles said of Joanna.

Charles has had knee replacements, shoulder surgery and open heart surgery. Two years ago, he bought her a gift to show his appreciation.

“He got me a nursing cap,” Joanna said. “The 60th anniversary is supposed to be diamonds, but at the 58th, I got a nursing cap. I told him I was working on my nursing degree,” she laughed.

Love was what got them through hard times.

“You gotta keep loving the person,” Charles said. “You can’t give up.”

“Don’t go into marriage thinking if I don’t like it, I can get a divorce,” Joanna said. “You don’t start a marriage like that.”

For their 60th wedding anniversary, family and friends threw them a surprise party at the Elliott House.

“It’s hard to remember when we weren’t married,” Joanna said.

“I’d do it all again,” Charles said.

Now that 60 years has passed, the Coonrods say they know each other better than they did when they were newlyweds.

“I love him more now than I did, if that’s possible,” Joanna said. “I think the feeling is mutual, right?”

“Yes ma’am,” Charles said.

“If not, there’s the door,” she joked.