Virgil and Mary Lou Lamb have their 75th wedding anniversary on Tuesday, June 28. To celebrate, Virgil said they may go to dinner in Stoughton’s nearby downtown.
“We haven’t made any plans,” he said, then glanced toward Mary Lou.
A marriage doesn’t last 75 years without good, oft-unspoken communication.
He paused and added, “I haven’t asked her yet what she wants to do.”
Married more than five months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the longtime former Brooklyn residents are survivors in life and matrimony. They are ages 94 (Mary Lou) and 93 (Virgil) and both suffered pneumonia last February to April.
Still, they seem fine.
“We really aren’t,” Mary Lou said with a laugh, “but thank you very much.”
The Lambs take walks, get groceries at Pick ’n Save and live independently. They also enjoy an occasional trip to Ho-Chunk casino in Madison. One of their five children, Shirley Gilbert of Oregon, called them “inseparable … with good humor and keen minds.”
When Mary Lou tells anyone about their upcoming 75th anniversary, she says with a smile, the person is always stunned.
“They ask me: ‘To the same man?!’”
They met at Brooklyn High School. He was a freshman; she was a sophomore. They lived 15 miles apart and dated by going to movies in Evansville.
“He wasn’t talkative,” Mary Lou said. “I was.”
Virgil added: “So I listened.”
Mary Lou liked him. A lot.
“I think that’s a handsome guy there,” she said and pointed to a photo on the wall of their duplex. It’s Virgil at age 20.
The Lambs were married in a Methodist church in Oshkosh before a small gathering. They honeymooned in Green Lake for two days then returned to a tiny Brooklyn apartment, and Virgil continued working as a truck driver in southern Wisconsin.
A year after they were married, their first child was born. Virgil was not there for the birth of the couple’s second child. He had been drafted for World War II and picked for the Marines.
Virgil was stationed in Guam, where his regiment landed ashore on Iwo Jima in early 1945. As soon as they arrived, enemy response was swift.
“We got into trouble with Japanese mortar,” Virgil said. “I was worried.” One explosion landed behind him and lodged in his back. It was a serious injury, but Virgil – a Purple Heart recipient – continued to finish a two-and-a-half year stint in the military.
Mary Lou was back in Brooklyn with two toddlers.
“My mom kept everything together while dad was gone,” Gilbert said. “She raised two little ones without being able to drive and lived on meager income from my dad in the Marines. They didn’t have running water.”
The government sent Mary Lou a telegram to explain that Virgil was wounded. She had few details.
On their second daughter’s second birthday, Virgil returned to Brooklyn. He had never seen this child until that moment. Returning from war hardened Virgil.
“He was a little bit different for awhile. But he was fine,” Mary Lou said. “I made goulash for dinner one night, and he had a lot of mixed foods in the military. I thought he was going to throw it out. But he ate it all. That helped.”
The Lambs had three more kids, with the last two born 12 years apart.
Virgil became co-owner of his family’s trucking business after the war for several years, then joined the Dane County highway department as a maintenance worker. For 18 years until retirement, he plowed snow, cut weeds and mowed grass. He never let pain in his wounded back slow him.
Over several decades, Virgil also served others in Brooklyn by volunteering in many capacities. He was a volunteer firefighter, Village Board trustee and village president as well as an active member of the American Legion in Brooklyn and the VFW in Oregon.
At one fire, Virgil’s hand was burned severely.
“He went through an awful lot,” Mary Lou said, “but he did a lot for the Village of Brooklyn.”
At home, Mary Lou, 5-foot-1 and barely over 100 pounds, cared for five children.
“They always knew I was going to be home when they came back from school,” Mary Lou said. ”They wanted to smell what I might have baked.”
Virgil added, “I’m impressed by her.”
Anniversaries and more
In 2012, they sold their home in Brooklyn and moved to a duplex near Skaalen Retirement Services in Stoughton.
In the last decade, their two oldest daughters died from illness. The Lambs have 10 grandchildren and even more great-grandchildren.
They’ve celebrated prominent anniversaries.
“We had a party over at Stoughton Country Club. Which one was that? Fifty?” Mary Lou asked her husband.
“I think so,” Virgil said.
A private, small celebration for the 75th anniversary will happen later this summer with immediate family. The Lambs don’t have a wedding photo, and Mary Lou’s wedding ring – “small and beautiful,” she said – was lost several years ago.
The couple reflected on their 75th anniversary – and, if their health holds, a few more could happen. Mary Lou noted that her father lived until age 103 on a farm near Oregon.
But Tuesday’s anniversary will be monumental.
“It’s a nice thing,” Mary Lou said and turned to Virgil. “Don’t you think so?”
“Oh, yes.” Virgil said.
Each offered advice on a long marriage. Virgil kept it simple: “One day at a time,” he said.
Mary Lou reflected for a moment then said: “We didn’t always have it rosy. There were difficult times. Aren’t there always? But you usually don’t stay married 75 years.”
She turned again to Virgil and added, “I don’t know where the time went.”