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Growing older, loving stronger: Two couples at Evergreen senior assisted living, share their love stories

Pauline and Albert Schwindt sit in their room at Evergreen senior assisted living, holding hands on Wednesday in Dickinson. (Kalsey Stults/The Dickinson Press)

Harley Schepp points out the window, at the Evergreen senior assisted living building in Dickinson, where there are two trees blowing in the wind.

“See that tree out there,” he said. “When the wind is blowing, harder than it is now, they dance together.”

“When you stand here, like this morning for example, they get pretty wild out there,” Harley noted with a smile. “They’re just doing the two-step now.”

Vicki, Harley’s wife of 33 years, stands next to him marveling at her husband’s imagination.

On the other side of the building, across the hall from Harley’s room, sits Albert and Pauline Schwindt, each in their own chair, hands in each others’ as they each enjoy their own thing, Albert watching TV and Pauline doing a word search puzzle.

“She’ll sit there and work in her hidden word book and pretty soon she reaches out. The nurses have caught us sitting there holding hands,” Albert said with a chuckle. “I think they find it kind of weird. Don’t find many couples that will sit there and hold hands after 50 or 60 years, I’m sure there are some out there.”

The Schwindts and the Schepps are living their love stories day in and day out.

‘She’s my Valentine ... my sweetheart’

Albert and Pauline have been married for 57 years and they will cross off 58 years this August.

They met all those years ago through Pauline’s brother, though Albert had been curious about her before they had met.

“Her folks and my folks were good friends and they played cards, but I was at her folks’ place and could never figure out why I never seen her.” Albert recalled. “But I’m almost seven years (older). I chummed around with her brother. She stayed with her older brother, here in town. One day she came to the door with a dishtowel.”

“And that’s where it all began,” Albert said.

He asked her brother if he thought she would go out with him, and he said “I think so. Ask her.”

At the time, Pauline worked at Walt’s grocery store on Villard Street, so Albert started picking her up after work and taking her home. They got married in 1958 at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Dickinson.

After the wedding, the Schwindts bought a little house in Dickinson and had three children: Carla, Kurt and Paulette.

“We bought that old house and updated it,” Albert said. “I did a lot of the work myself and updated it. We lived there for over 50 years, raised our kids, didn’t even have a basement. It was an old house. That was home to us. Hated to leave, but there comes time when you got to leave.”

Albert battled and won three bouts with cancer. He said his prostate cancer is now in remission, but the scars of those previous cancers are deep. He lost his right lung and part of his colon because of the cancers, which is a big reason they are now at Evergreen.

Through it all, Pauline was always there for him.

“I’m thankful for the days she was at my side with all of these rough days that I had,” Albert said. “She was right there for me, taking care of the kids, taking care of the house … and me.”

“We’ve had a lot of tough days, but then we’ve had a lot of happy days too,” he added. “A happy day was when we could jump in the car with the kids and take a little trip, like go down to the Black Hills, or to the (Theodore Roosevelt National) Park, pack a lunch and have a picnic and things like that. Those were the days, and you don’t forget those.”

Pauline finds it hard to remember some of those happy times. She is experiencing the early stages of dementia.

“That’s why she’s forgetful, but I’m there for her until …,” Albert said, letting the word linger. “I made a vow to take care of her and she takes care of me when I needed it, and I’m taking care the best way that I can.”

Pauline chimes in saying, “He’s doing real good. It couldn’t be much better. Oh, I love him dearly”

“I loved her then and I still love her,” Albert said while looking over at his wife. “To me she’s my Valentine. … My sweetheart.”

Albert said forgiveness helped them keep their love going for more than a half-century.

“You gotta learn to forgive and try to forget,” Albert said. “Forgiveness is important, I think.”

“I was no angel,” Albert starts to say before Pauline interrupts him, adding with a laugh, “I wasn’t either.”

“As her and I get older, I think our love for each other is stronger,” he said. “We both try to do the best for each other as possible.”

They are still affectionate with each other after all of those years.

“It may seem funny, but we probably do a lot more kissing and hugging than a lot of these younger people. That you can do for life,” he said.

But it’s not always rainbows and sunshine for the couple.

“You can make it work, if you work at it on both sides. It’s a give-and-take kind of situation,” Albert said. “There’s many times where I say things she doesn’t like. We argue. It wouldn’t be normal if we didn’t.”

Albert said one example of their arguments is that his wife is a very neat person and he’s a slob, and she doesn’t like the way he dresses.

“Well, he lost weight and it’s all so big on him. But he doesn’t want to go shopping and buy any (clothes),” Pauline said. “So we get into it once in awhile.”

Throughout the years, they say their biggest accomplishment is the family they raised.

“Raising our kids to be the best kids, not that I want to brag on them or anything but,” she said, before Albert interrupts her mid-sentence.

“No we’re proud of that,” he said. “She says bragging. She can brag a little because that’s a big accomplishment, when you can raise three kids like that.”

‘We made it’

While the Schwindts had three children together, Harley and Vicki Schepp had three children that they brought into their marriage.

Vicki had two children, Laura and Scott, from another relationship and Harley had one son, Steve.

They met a little later in life. She was 42 and he was 52.

Their paths crossed at KLTC radio station, where Harley worked selling ads and Vicki did sales and promotions. She would sit on a flagpole for a promotion the station was doing for Sax Motor Co. at the beginning of her time there.

It wasn’t long after that they formed a relationship.

“He was the only one who would bring me coffee in the mornings,” she said. “I fell in love then.”

While they were both weary of starting a new relationship, they decided to try it.

“We both had had bad experiences before so we were both pretty leery, but we decided we’d do it anyway, and it’s been good,” Vicki said. “He’s been the best thing in my life that has ever happened to me.”

After Harley caught a state-record carp, Vicki remembers coming home one night to a surprise.

“He got the fish mounted. It’s the ugliest thing,” she said. “It’s very ugly. I worked at nights sometimes, so when I come home one night, he says, ‘Come on in.’ He was in bed already. ‘Come on in, come on in.’ I pull the covers back and there’s that stupid fish right next to him.”

Harley sat in his chair and smiled as Vicki told the story.

Though he’s more quiet now, he use to solve all of the family problems with talking.

He’d sit at the table with his wife to hash it out, or take the children into “his office” to talk.

Though bringing their families together was an adjustment at the beginning, Vicki said she loved that he solved their problems through talking it out.

“When I start talking, I’m getting to the end of my rope,” Harley said.

“We had quite a few problems, but we worked our way through them, we made it,” Vicki said while looking at her husband. “We made it, didn’t we dear?”

Vicki said she’s happy Harley had a role in raising her children.

“I think with his support, they turned out better than I ever would have done by myself,” she said.

And she says they “think he is pretty special.”

Harley now resides at Evergreen because his Parkinson’s disease has gotten to be too much for Vicki to handle alone.

“It’s not the way we visualized our lives,” Vicki said. “You just don’t expect this to happen.”

For the past two years, Vicki comes to Evergreen to visit her husband and they will go on a walk or take a trip to Pizza Ranch or McDonald’s, which Harley likes.

Harley looks at everyday as “an adventure.”

He said their relationship now is “a different kind of a relationship.”  

“The love changes,” Vicki said. “You know, it’s gaga happy at the beginning and when you get older it grows, and it gets stronger. But it’s different. You get to know each other better. We can just about read each other’s minds.”

Harley’s advice is to keep religion a focus for a successful marriage.

“I think the church should be the foundation for the marriage, even if you don’t go every Sunday,” he said. “You’ll probably (be) less apt to be saying hurtful thing.”

For Valentine’s Day, Vicki is getting him chocolates and he is going to be getting her “pretty” flowers.