Six siblings share love and golden anniversaries
Beyond the initial thrill of getting together — the tingling and fluttering, the swooning euphoria and none-too-subtle glances, the thrilling unknown, the unspeakable joy — is the longer path of staying together.
It’s like the difference between a wedding and a marriage: One is for a day, one is for life.
Or it starts out to be, rather. The intentions may be good, the love may be pure, but “forever” sometimes ends up being “for now.” It happens, for whatever reason, and the divorce statistics begin to make the idea of marriage all the more daunting.
Do people stay together anymore? Sure they do. Of course they do — happily, peacefully, through changing lives and passing decades. Sometimes, even within a big family, the bonds remain secure and true.
And so it is for E.E. “Buck” and Alpha Thurston’s six children. Each is past 70, some are past 80. Their various roads have circled the world and navigated surprising, sometimes challenging, routes. But this much remains constant: They’ve all been married at least 50 years, and all still have their spouses. The oldest three siblings have been married more than 60 years.
Beyond the practical explanation of “in our day you got married and you stayed married,” is this: “I just like him,” said Jean Thurston, wife of Richard, the youngest of the Thurston kids.
But for marriages this enduring, there are stories.
and Larry Keenan
Married March 17, 1946, in Grand Lake
Alpharae Thurston was, if you can believe it, an honest-to-goodness milkmaid. Buck and Alpha Thurston had a ranch in Tabernash, a tiny Grand County town on U.S. Highway 40, and their six children grew up on it.
Alpharae delivered milk to the Keenan family store and cafe in Winter Park, which is where Larry Keenan, just home from World War II, was working one afternoon in the summer of 1945.
“I smoked then,” he recalled, “and I blew smoke her way, and she slapped me.”
“I reached over and slapped his face,” Alpharae recalled.
“I thought she was cute.”
“I thought he was disgusting.”
She was 18, he was 19, and she managed to forget her initial disgust because “he was a good dancer and I love to dance,” she said.
Back then, there was a bar in Winter Park where the owner didn’t check IDs, so they went there and danced the night away. Love bloomed “in a hurry,” Larry said, and by December they were engaged.
Larry’s brother had been engaged but called it off, so he offered the ring to Larry, who made monthly payments to his brother for the $125 band. That ring and a second one wore out over the decades, replaced by the third, wide gold band Alpharae wears now.
They got married on St. Patrick’s Day, and the first of their five children came a year and a half later.
Larry’s work took the family from a cranberry bog in Washington state to a brief stint in the U.S. Air Force, to Grand Junction when the Grand County altitude was affecting Alpharae during a pregnancy, and finally back to Tabernash.
Larry retired as director of building and grounds maintenance at the local school district, and Alpharae as director of food services. They moved to Palisade more than 20 years ago and have traveled and spent their days with their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“Years don’t mean anything to me,” Alpharae said. “Time just goes on. I can’t imagine being with anybody else.”
Victor Thurston and Fay Shot
Married Feb. 6, 1951, in Granby
All the Thurston kids grew up on horses. So, all the kids in the Western Riders riding club would head to the Thurston ranch for practice. That’s where Fay Shot first noticed Victor Thurston.
He was two years ahead of her in school, and she was from Fraser, anyway, so it wasn’t until after she’d graduated high school that he asked her out. They met at the theater in Fraser, where they saw a show. Victor rode his horse there.
It wasn’t long before they were engaged and planning to get married at the tiny Baptist church in Granby. They had to get a blood test for their marriage license, and ended up going to Denver themselves when their first blood samples froze en route. Everything worked out, though, and they married on an icy February day.
After a honeymoon in Grand Junction, they returned to Grand County, where Victor enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. His 10-year career took the family from Texas to Maine to Nebraska, and all five of their children were born during that time.
They returned to Tabernash and bought a home and some land, and Victor worked first at a ski lodge and then in a mill until he retired.
Much like they’d been raised, Victor and Fay raised their children to love the outdoors and to love the textures and sounds of their Colorado home. In fact, that’s one of the reasons they’ve been together 62 years.
“I think we were both outdoor people and we always have been, so we’d always do whatever we can outdoors,” Fay explained. “We love to ride horses and we love to just get out and drive to whatever there is to see up here. I guess we’ve always just liked whatever each other has done.”
These days, they go to about 16 craft fairs each year, selling the wooden toys Victor makes.
“As long as the good Lord gives us enough energy and health,” Fay said, “we’ll keep doing the things we’ve always loved doing.”
Margaret Thurston and Blyde Patty
Married June 3, 1951, in Grand Lake
One of the nice things about being from a big family is that older siblings can sometimes be counted on to bring home interesting friends.
So, Victor Thurston had a friend who was from Iowa but had the good sense to get out to Colorado at the tender age of 11. This fella, Blyde Patty, learned how to ski — a must for the skiing Thurston family — and got a job at Winter Park Resort, where Victor worked.
Victor brought Blyde home one day and Margaret Thurston’s heart beat faster. She was 18 and a half and he was 21, and their first date was on Valentine’s Day.
You’re only 18, Margaret’s mother told her, just out of high school. But she knew what she wanted and four months later they were married. Plus, Margaret will point out, her mother was just as young when her parents married Nov. 8, 1926, and they made it 48 years before her father died at age 69.
Since that June day in 1951, life has been an adventure. Blyde drove trucks for four years out of Cheyenne, Wyo., before the couple, then a family with a young son, decided to buy a ski lodge in Winter Park. They expanded it from five rooms to 22, then sold it and moved to Arizona.
In Arizona, they developed a subdivision, had a KOA and owned six Arby’s restaurants. They helped Margaret’s parents on the ranch they’d bought near Prescott — a concession to Buck Thurston’s emphysema — and returned often to Colorado, which was always home.
They got their pilot’s licenses in Kremmling and enjoyed flying, and went skiing around the world. Sixty-two years on and they’re still competitive skiers.
“We have fun together,” Margaret said.
“We always have,” Blyde added.
Well into their retirement, Alpharae told Margaret, “Why don’t you gypsies come home?” It took them two years to get to Grand Junction, because they detoured by Taos, N.M., and “ski bummed” at the resort there for two years with their son.
And even now, 11 years after moving to the Grand Valley, they don’t often stay still, traveling, skiing, doing many of the things that they’ve always enjoyed doing. Why stay still, when there’s so much of life and somebody interesting at your side?
Evelyn Thurston and
Married July 22, 1954, in Granby
Perhaps it’s because someone who’s naturally shy recognizes a kindred spirit, and two bashful people are drawn together. Whatever it was, Evelyn Thurston noticed Bob Columbia that evening.
Her older sister Margaret was dating Bob’s brother and Evelyn had gone to a movie with them. After the show, they stopped at the Columbia house for homemade ice cream and Evelyn, just in grade school, noticed Bob sitting by the stove on a pile of wood.
Several years later, she noticed him again. Oh, they’d bumped into each other over the years — it’s impossible not to know pretty much everybody in small towns like Tabernash and Fraser — but this time, he took her home from the show.
They were both so bashful, but together they were just right. After dating for several years, they got married on a beautiful July day in 1954. She was 19 and he was 18. They married at the Justice of the Peace’s house in Granby, with Alpharae and Larry as witnesses.
Afterward, they went home to Tabernash, to a little reception with a nice cake that Alpharae had made.
At the time, Bob was on leave from the U.S. Marine Corps, but soon after they married he had to return to duty in North Carolina. Evelyn had never been so far from home “and I got so homesick,” she remembered. “I’d wait until he fell asleep and cry my eyes out.”
After Bob left the Marines, the young family returned to Colorado, but jobs were hard to come by. Fortunately, Evelyn’s uncle called about a job in California, so one day Alpharae took Bob to the airport in Denver to catch a plane out there, and the next day Evelyn delivered one of their four children. She and the baby joined Bob in California, where the family lived for 15 years, after which they moved to Michigan and eventually to Palisade to take care of Evelyn’s mother.
Now, they live in Michigan between Lansing and Detroit, spending time with their four children, nine grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. It’s been a good life, Evelyn reflected, not without its ups and downs, but one that’s been happy in its companionship.
“He takes care of me,” she said, “he looks out for me and he always has. We take care of each other.”
and Helen Knots
Married April 8, 1962, in Anchorage, Alaska
It’s appropriate that Dan Thurston and Helen Knots met on a ski slope. All the Thurston kids skied — and skied well — so while Dan was stationed in Alaska with the U.S. Army he entered a ski race.
While he was practicing one day, he noticed a pretty girl on the slopes and asked about her. She was a dental hygienist down in Anchorage and she was dating his friend. But not for long, it turned out. He won pretty much every event in the ski race, not just for Army pride but to impress a girl, and soon they were dating.
But Helen was an adventurer at heart — she and a friend had driven from northern Minnesota, where she was from, all the way to Anchorage — and she took off to travel around Europe in the middle of their romance. Well, when she came back, “I wasn’t going to let her go again,” Dan said, so the only thing to do was get married.
They said “I do” at a small cabin where Helen lived with her friends. The snow was still deep so the Congregational minister had to walk in to the cabin, but it was a beautiful day. They both had absorbed Alaska into their hearts, so when Dan got out of the Army after six years, they stayed there.
Helen continued working as a dental hygienist and Dan worked in the oil industry and they expanded their family by two sons.
At one point, Dan had the opportunity to transfer to Australia but declined the offer, one that Helen the adventurer would have loved.
“I think that was our first fight,” he said, laughing.
Instead, while on vacation in Colorado, they let themselves be convinced to buy Blyde Patty’s drive-in restaurant in Winter Park. They ran the restaurant and Dan directed ski schools, and the family grew by two daughters.
But they always missed Alaska. Returning there, Dan became one of the original ice road truckers.
Now, they spend their summers in Alaska and winters in Grand Junction, dividing their time between four children, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
As for the glue that’s kept them bonded for 51 years, it’s not just habit and it’s not just the kids, Dan said.
“She’s a great gal.”
“And I took a pledge and kept it,” Helen added. “He’s my husband.”
Richard Thurston and Jean Underwood
Married June 18, 1962, in Granby
In a small town, it’s almost impossible not to know everyone. Kids seem to grow up in a group and can’t help knowing, or know about, each other.
So, even though Richard Thurston was from Tabernash and Jean Underwood was from Granby, they both ended up in the same classes at Granby High School. They even sat by each other in some of them, but it wasn’t until senior year that Richard finally asked her out.
“I wanted to go out with him,” Jean recalled. “But when he asked me I thought, oh, I can’t be too serious so I told him I can’t go tonight but I can go tomorrow.
“How stupid can you get?” she added with a laugh.
But after that first date to the movies, they were inseparable. They graduated — Jean as class valedictorian — and Richard went into the U.S. Army, and a year later they decided to get married while he was on leave.
He got home on a Friday night and two days later, on Monday morning, his parents hustled the couple to Kremmling to buy a car. Then, they rushed back to Granby so they could be married at 6 p.m. that evening in the Presbyterian church.
After a honeymoon trip that took them around the state, they drove to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., where Richard was briefly stationed. He soon was sent to France and Jean returned to Colorado to earn enough money for a ticket to Europe to join her husband.
After a year in France, they were sent to Germany, arriving there the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Jean was pregnant with the first of their four daughters.
When Richard left the Army, the family moved to Denver, where they lived for 30 years and Richard worked for Sundstrand as a machinist. They raised their girls there and loved living there, but decided to retire to Shelley, Idaho, which they’d fallen in love with while visiting Jean’s brother.
And even now, 51 years later after that day in June, they still love just being together.
“I just thought she was pretty special,” he said, “and I still do.”
“He’s just a very, very nice guy and he’s always thought about what I like to do,” she said. “It’s never just about him. He’s a very caring person, a very, very tolerant guy. And we just kind of know each other by now.
“We just like being together,” he added.
“I’d be lost without him. I guess the main thing is we love each other and we’re half of each other. I don’t want anybody else.”