Wayne Dunbar and two other guys on the Logansport High School basketball team were bored one Sunday in 1943. So they came to Kokomo in search of Mom Oakley’s, a soda shop for teenagers.
“We heard it was a place to meet girls,” Wayne said.
They got a little lost trying to find the place and saw two girls walking down the street. The boys approached them, hoping the young women would be able to point them in the right direction.
One of the girls was Joan Ellis, and Mom Oakley’s happened to only be a block from her house.
They walked as a group to the soda shop, and afterward went to Joan’s house to make future plans for dates.
Jamie, one of Wayne’s friends, went out with Joan. On their many double dates, Wayne went out too, but always with another girl.
“I thought she was a pretty nice-lookin’ girl, but Jamie already latched onto her,” he said of Joan.
Joan didn’t really have eyes for Wayne. She preferred Jamie, who was taller than the rest of the guys.
“I thought he was okay,” Joan said of Wayne. “But, I liked the other one best.”
Since they didn’t have much money, their double dates mainly consisted of sitting on the front porch or walking uptown. Joan didn’t mind, as long as they were there.
“Those girls would settle for a Coke,” Wayne joked.
“No, that’s all we were offered,” Joan laughed.
Over a couple of months, her feelings for Wayne began to change, even though he had no idea.
“I gradually changed my mind,” Joan said. “I’d be looking for him, not the tallest. Finally, I couldn’t see any of them but Wayne.”
During this time, Wayne signed up to volunteer for the Army Air Corps, and only a few months after first meeting Joan, he was activated for World War II. He and his buddies came to Kokomo to say goodbye to the girls.
“I was gonna miss him,” Joan said. “I don’t think I was completely in love yet, but I liked him.”
She even told her friends not to pursue Wayne because she had her heart set on him, although he didn’t know it yet.
Wayne knew Joan was writing a few other guys who had left home for WWII, so he asked if she’d write him too. She agreed.
“Back then everything was fast during the war,” Wayne said. “You couldn’t wait around if you wanted to do something.”
Wayne was sent out west for training. His letters to Joan were pretty short, even though they wrote back and forth fairly often.
Joan sent Wayne a picture of herself and he always kept it in his locker on the Air Force base.
“I think I knew by her letters that that was the girl I’d marry,” Wayne said.
He was so sure he wanted to marry her that he sent her a diamond ring through the mail.
Joan sent it back, saying she didn’t know him well enough.
“It had been so long since I’d seen him, I didn’t know if he looked the same,” she said.
Wayne didn’t take it too hard. He was willing to give her a little time before he tried again.
“I think they want to have someone to come home to, so I think he’d decided I’d do,” Joan said.
Wayne and Joan went for almost two years without seeing each other at all until Wayne had a three-day leave. He came back to Logansport and had his first date with Joan at Theater Tavern.
It was on their first date that they got engaged.
“I said, ‘We’re gonna get married,’ and she said, ‘I guess so,’” Wayne said.
Even though she’d sent back his diamond ring earlier, Joan said she knew all along that they’d get married.
“I just knew that he’d be mine,” she said.
When Wayne’s short leave was up, he boarded a train back to Kansas, and later got news he would be transferred to Yuma, Ariz. He had an eight-day period where he could move and it was the perfect break of time for him and Joan to get married.
“When you find the right person, you’ll know,” he said.
Joan’s father accompanied her on the trip to Arizona, but at the beginning of their trip April 12, 1945, after they got off the train at Chicago, news broke that president Franklin Delano Roosevelt died.
Wayne and Joan were planning on getting married three days later on the 15th, but that was the day the military was having a memorial service for FDR at the air base in Yuma, so Wayne would have to fly. They postponed the wedding one day, to the 16th.
They were wed April 16, 1945 in the chapel on the base in Yuma, Ariz. Joan was 20 and Wayne was 21.
For the next few months, the newlyweds lived in Yuma. It wasn’t Joan’s favorite place to live. She said it was 110 degrees in the shade and since it was so hot there, they didn’t go out until the evening. They would swim in the Colorado River, bowl and play shuffleboard together. Later that year, they moved back to Indiana, and after relocating a few times due to jobs, they settled in Kokomo in 1978.
The Dunbars liked being married, even though there was a little bit of adjusting at first.
“It takes two years to get used to each other,” Wayne said. “The first two years are the hardest. You have your own personalities and to getting used to each other’s personalities takes a while. Once you get past two years, you got it made.”
The Dunbars have made it far past those first two years of marriage. They’ve celebrated 68 wedding anniversaries together, even though it’s hard for them to believe that time has flown by so quickly.
“I don’t even know how to think about not being married to him,” Joan said. “I can’t imagine it.”
“If I had never come to Kokomo that first time, this would never happen,” Wayne said. “I wouldn’t have four children, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.”
The Dunbars agree they’ve gotten to do a lot of things together. They’ve gotten to travel a lot to Florida, New York City, Las Vegas, and Washington D.C.
It hasn’t always worked perfectly for them though. They say it has taken time to smooth out the edges during disagreements.
“I think what you do is live day by day,” Wayne said. “I think you should be able to talk to each other and understand the person’s personality. It’s a bond between you.”
Wayne and Joan believe that their marriage is meant to be, and that that’s something they often repeat to each other.
“When you first get married you don’t really love the person,” Wayne said. “You like their personality, but the love grows. I love her more now than I ever did in my whole life.”