Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

July 21, 2013

The Milligans' lasting love

Through all of Kitty's nine lives

By Kelly Lafferty kokomo tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — There were three things Kathryn “Kitty” Zirkle had sworn off when it came to dating.

“I didn’t want blind dates, I didn’t want red heads and I didn’t want a mustache,” she said.

It all went back to a particular blind date where Kitty’s red-headed and mustached date took her ice skating, and bragged that he would teach her how to waltz on skates.

“I didn’t like his appearance and I didn’t like him bragging,” Kitty said. “He came across as a blowhard. He wasn’t my cup of tea.”

Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t live up to his vain waltz-skating statement.

“He put ice skates on and couldn’t stand up,” Kitty said.

Her blind date wanted to go out again, but Kitty declined.

“I can’t even remember his name,” she said. “He’s not something I want to remember.”

After what she described as a lousy date, Kitty, who worked as a phone operator in Marion, wanted a break from blind dating altogether, along with red-headed men with mustaches.

“I got teased a lot because I made that statement,” she said.

Her fellow phone operator friends had different plans for her. They had met the perfect man for Kitty. They just had to convince her to go out with him.

While they were off work they would call the trouble phone line while Kitty was working, which she was required to always answer, or else she’d get in trouble with her boss.

They called six times one evening telling Kitty that they wanted her to go out on this blind date. One of her friends even went out to meet the young man and said he was a good guy.

Kitty didn’t want to go, based off of her bad past experience.

It was her mother who talked her into going, saying that if she didn’t like him, she didn’t have to go out on a second date with him.

So Kitty finally agreed and that night she went to Kokomo to see a movie called “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” with Gene Milligan, her blind date.

He had red hair.

“I liked him,” Kitty said. “He was so different from the last one I had. He was nothing like that fella. You can’t tell a book by its cover, I guess.”

Gene thought Kitty was a pretty good girl. So he kept asking her out on future dates.

Gene, 20, and Kitty, 21, would have picnics at Clearwater Park, watch boat races in Marion, and go to shows together and take a trip to a drive-in afterward for a hamburger and Coke.

“He was very attentive,” Kitty said. “He was very polite and I liked the way he looked. I was happy with him.”

They dated for 14 months, when Kitty made a comment to Gene about marriage.

“He kept talking about when we get married we’re gonna do this and that,” she said. “And then one time I said, ‘you haven’t asked me yet.’”

Not long after that, Gene made a move.

While they were kissing, Gene slipped the ring Kitty usually wore off of her finger, and replaced it with an engagement ring he had been storing in his glove compartment. Kitty didn’t realize that he’d done that until she looked down and saw the diamond.

“I can’t say that was the plan, but that’s how it turned out,” Gene said.

Gene and Kitty were married at First Christian Church in Marion on August 22, 1948 when Gene was 21 and Kitty was 22.

“I just loved her,” Gene said. “That’s all I know.”

The Milligans lived in their first house for eight years before building a house in Kokomo that they’ve lived in since 1956.

They learned a lot about each other once they were married and living together.

“He had a lot more temper than I thought he did,” Kitty said. “It’s the red head,” she laughed.

For example, once when the car wouldn’t start so he could go to work, he kicked at the car and threw mud on it.

He found a different way to get to work at Haynes Stellite, and later that day one of their neighbors got the car started. Kitty picked Gene up from work in the mud-splattered car.

“He said, ‘You didn’t wash it off,’ I said, ‘I didn’t put it on,’” Kitty said. “He came home and washed the car.”

The Milligans had to learn how to understand one another and how to handle arguments.

“I was the quiet type,” Gene said. “I wouldn’t talk or anything.”

“I’d just let it go,” Kitty said. “You have to learn there’s no use talking because he’s not going to listen to you. Might as well forget it.”

The Milligans were always able to resolve disagreements, and Gene doesn’t get upset at hardly anything anymore.

“We try not to get mad, that’s the main thing,” Kitty said. “Going to church and trusting the Lord has helped.”

They have been married for almost 65 years and have had two children.

Not too long ago, they would spend quality time together taking dance lessons at the Senior Center.

“We weren’t professionals or anything, but we had fun,” Kitty said.

The dancing came to an end in the early 2000s when Kitty got sick.

“It’s never a dull moment,” she said. “You think everything is going fine.”

In 2002 she was diagnosed with colon cancer. The next year, she had breast cancer and underwent radiation. In 2005, she had chemotherapy because she had lymphoma in her head.

The doctors told her she had a five percent chance of living through the chemotherapy.

She lived through it only to have open heart surgery in 2006 and a stroke in 2008.

The doctors called her a miracle and a Kitty with nine lives.

“I think the Lord was with me and I had a lot of prayers,” Kitty said. “There’s power in prayer I believe.”

With all of the sickness and hospital stays, Kitty got pretty depressed.

“I had so much happen in a row that it was getting to me,” she said.

Gene helped as much as he could with Kitty, who is now recovered and doing well.

“I couldn’t have had anybody better,” she said. “He even learned to cook a little bit.”

His specialty was bacon and scrambled eggs.

Through the highs and lows of their marriage, Gene and Kitty say their relationship has stayed the same.

“I think after a certain time you can read each other’s mind,” Gene said. “You pretty well know each other.”