By Kelly Lafferty
---- — A tragic accident led Bud Rife to Joan Zook in 1952.
Bud was invited by his friends to join them on a drive from his hometown of Chili to have a malt in Peru. He turned them down because he already had a date planned.
His friends went on to Peru without him and were involved in a car accident on the way there. Two guys in the car were killed.
The driver of the car, who was dating Joan's sister at the time, got his license taken away for a year. He eventually approached Bud and asked him if he would be willing to drive the car to Kokomo and, in return, he would get 17-year-old Bud a date.
Bud agreed. Then he and his date and his friend and his friend's date were at a service at Kokomo Zion Church one day when he spotted 18-year-old Joan. Once he saw her there, no other girl mattered. It was love at first sight for Bud, and he told his friend that if he couldn't get a date with Joan, he would no longer drive him to Kokomo.
After the service, Bud invited Joan to tag along with the two couples to get malts and burgers.
"I guess I never noticed that I was the fifth clog in the wheel," Joan said. "The others had partners, and there I was just hanging along."
Joan had a crush on Bud, too. She said she talked so much around him that day. She normally didn’t talk a lot. When his friend talked to her about going on a date with Bud, she agreed.
Bud made the 70-mile round trip drive from Chili to Kokomo and back when gas was 20 cents per gallon to see Joan once a week. They would go to church and drive-in movies together. On the days they didn’t see each other, they wrote.
“Once a week, when you’re using Dad’s car, is about all you can squeeze out of it,” Bud said.
After a year of dating, Bud surprised Joan with a ring.
One day in July while he was visiting her in Kokomo, he drove her down a gravel road to a park by the water company. He proposed to her in the car.
“I’m not sure we were even supposed to be there,” Joan laughed. “It was private property.”
“That’s what you wanna do,” Bud said. “Go where it’s private.”
Even though they were a young couple, both Joan and Bud's parents were supportive of the marriage. In fact, Bud looked up to his parents as an example to live by. They got married when they were young, too, and were married for 65 years.
“If you’re ready to get married, and you’re with someone you like and you get along, that’s pretty much it,” Bud said. “There’s a little glow inside of you that tells you something. You either go by it or don’t go by it.”
Bud and Joan both went by the glow inside of them and were married on Oct. 23, 1953, at Kokomo Zion Church when Joan was 19 and Bud was 18.
“I loved him,” Joan said. “I loved being with him. We had a good time together. I just thought he would be somebody I’d love spending the rest of my life with. I’ve never regretted it.”
Their first home near Chili was a coal-heated house with no hot water, no indoor bathroom and a door that didn't always work. One morning, the Rife newlyweds woke up to a snow drift in their kitchen because the doors didn’t fit correctly.
“But, it was only $20 a month and I could afford that,” Bud said.
“We call it the honeymoon cottage,” Joan laughed.
They spent six months commuting to work in Kokomo. Bud worked at a lumber company, and Joan worked at Shell Oil. Eventually, they found a place to live in Kokomo. Bud went on to work at General Motors for a few decades before he retired. Together, they went fishing on the Eel River and raised their three children.
“We tried to do everything we could together and do things the other person enjoyed,” Bud said.
Joan worked in Eastern Elementary’s cafeteria for many years where she served her kids, grandkids and great-grandkids.
“That may not have anything to do with your marriage, but that’s some of the benefits you really reap,” she said of getting to watch her offspring grow up.
The Rifes have been married for 60 years, and they agree that those six decades have gone by really quickly.
“I think when you’re married for longer years, you grow more compatible,” Joan said. “You sure know each other inside and out.”
Bud and Joan treasure their time together, but they think it’s important to be independent, too.
“When we first were married, it seemed like everything you did, you kind of depended on the other person,” Bud said. “I think you’ve got to be independent because, at our age, some day one of us isn’t going to be here, so you can’t be hooked to the other person’s hip.”
The couple says a good marriage doesn’t just happen. They have worked together to make their marriage a happy one. Trust, sharing, respect and believing in each other have helped build their successful relationship.
“You’ve got to trust,” Bud said. “There’s no other way. It eliminates any of your doubts.”
As the Rifes near their 80s, they are still attracted to each other’s looks and personalities, which they say is another positive thing about their relationship.
“I think one of the most important things is sex appeal,” Bud said. "I’m 78 years old and I like pretty girls. Girls like Joan used to be old, but now they’re not. They’re pretty.”
As for their relationship, it’s better now than when they were newlyweds.
“It’s a deeper relationship,” Joan said. “When you get married, you’re working on your relationship, trying to cultivate it. You don’t have to do that now because you just know that deepness is already there.”