By Amy Kent
Herald Staff Writer
Recalling the memories of childhood can often be a difficult task for some people, but for Sam McKenrick, the memories of his days as a young boy are vivid images in his mind.
At 5 years old, Sam would help his grandfather, a carpenter, build and sand wooden chests, earning a nickel for his hard work. When he was finished in the shop, Sam would use that nickel to buy ice cream cones for his childhood friend, Evelyn.
Little did he know at the time that Evelyn would eventually become the love of his life, mother of his children and someone he would grow old with.
"We've known each other since we were old enough to know anybody," Sam said.
It seems the suave Sam and his ice cream offerings worked because in October, Sam and Evelyn will celebrate a marriage that has lasted 69 years.
And while a marriage spanning nearly seven decades is an accomplishment in itself, Sam says it wasn't always easy, but 60-plus years of anything seldom is.
As he told stories of his life with Evelyn, who sat affectionately at his side, Sam explained that while their marriage withstood the test of time, not every day was roses and rainbows.
He recalled one recent story in particular where he ended up with a large, red impression along the right side of his face.
"Last week I had a big red streak down the side of my face that I didn't even know I had," explained Sam, as he struggled to hold back his laughter. "Somebody said, 'what's that red mark?' and I said well, I was talking and Evelyn told me to shut up and I didn't hear her."
That jovial and sometimes humorous attitude toward each another is one way the two have stayed together for all these years. Escaping reality to enjoy each other's company during family vacations was another way for them to keep the flame burning.
Even shortly after the two had been married in October 1945 at the Great Lakes naval training station near North Chicago, Ill., they spent the month of January in Padre Island, Texas, to celebrate a honeymoon that was delayed by Sam's service in the United States Marine Corps.
It was actually soon after Sam had returned from overseas during his tour with the Marine Corps that the two were married at the naval base.
"I came home from overseas and the train came into LaSalle Street Station," recalled Sam. "My buddies and I started walking up the platform and one of them said, 'look at that lady standing over there,' and the other one said, 'looks like she's waiting for somebody.' I said 'she is — me.'"
Sam and Evelyn then rode the train back to the Great Lakes naval training station and were married not long after. Sam also added the only time during his career with the Marine Corps that he went absent without official leave was during the six nights after the two were married because of their separation at the base.
"She lived on one side of the Great Lakes and I lived on the other," he said. "I wasn't supposed to be over there but I got kind of an unofficial OK to go ahead."
Despite the challenges of their lives together and the squabbles that can often clutter a marriage, Sam's affection for his beloved wife was evident as he recalled the memories they created together, none more prevalent than raising their three children in their country home in Camanche.
And as the children grew and eventually flew the coop to other parts of the country, Sam did what he could to remind Evelyn of the love he had for her, often sending flowers as small tokens of his appreciation.
Those little mementos of love were one way Sam protected the long-lasting marriage that he and Evelyn built for themselves, but he added that the biggest advice he could pass along to young couples looking to emulate that accomplishment is that of a simple nature: "You have to love each other and trust each other. It's a game of give and take. And if you're a man you've got to learn to listen to your wife."
And while Evelyn didn't disagree with Sam's advice, she did add that the old stand by of winning a man's heart through his stomach still holds true.
Her suggestion to a young wife: "cook better than I did."