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Mike Jacobs: This couple beat the marriage odds

Google tells me that the Census Bureau has found that fewer than 5% of marriages in the United States last 50 years or more.

Mike Jacobs
Mike Jacobs
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July 31 is a big day on my calendar. That was Sunday.

It’s a big day because Suezette and I were married 51 years ago, on July 31, 1971, a Saturday that year.

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On my walks in Grand Forks, I often meet people I know, and sometimes long conversations ensue. Face-to-face conversations.

A 51st anniversary isn’t a surprise after all these years but this isn’t the outcome that anyone at the wedding ceremony expected, nor that the odds suggested.

Suezette’s mother didn’t like the match. Her son, now my brother-in-law, essentially insisted that she attend – even though he didn’t much care for the match either.

My own parents were OK with the marriage. They just didn’t expect it to work – on sociological grounds. My family: Catholic, Democrats, dairy farmers. Her family: Lutheran, Republican, ranchers. My uncle chaired the Mountrail County Democrats. Her grandfather was a state senator and a delegate to the 1952 Republican convention. He voted for Robert Taft.


About the only support in either family came from my older sister, who had made the same kind of bargain. She married a Lutheran and a rancher from the Heart River Valley, southwest of Mandan. Their marriage lasted more than 50 years.

Members of our wedding party were openly skeptical. The groomsmen made bets on how long the marriage would last. The best man took the long odds, out of a sense of obligation, he explained. He bet on six months.

Even the minister was reticent. He admonished us in the Lutheran way, though he might not have had much confidence.

The Lutheran wedding was a compromise, the first of many in a long life together.

The other part of the compromise was that the ceremony didn’t take place in Stanley, N.D., my hometown. Suezette claims Blaisdell, 16 miles to the east, as her hometown, even though she attended high school in Stanley. In fact, I lined her up with one of my friends for a date to the senior prom.

Instead we were married in Dickinson, N.D., where I worked as a reporter for the Dickinson Press. In some ways it was the best job I ever had, though it was not the best paying.

So many details of that day remain vivid in my memory.

The beautiful soprano solo delivered by a friend, a woman who wore a mumu.


The recorded renditions of several ‘60s songs, including the processional, “You’ve got a friend,” by James Taylor.

It was a counterculture wedding to be sure. The minister wore blue jeans and a Nehru jacket.

The wedding cake was chocolate with chocolate frosting and almost no decorations

Suezette worked all afternoon to make the potato salad – enough for a churchful.

There was a party after the ceremony at Patterson Lake, a reservoir on the Heart River west of Dickinson. The sunset was brilliant.

We spent the first night of our married life in the honeymoon suite in Dickinson’s finest motel. The bed was heart-shaped and it was covered with a brilliant red bedspread.

My new mother-in-law was shocked when we opened the gifts, which included a water bed. We outgrew that fad soon enough.

The photographs of the wedding were taken by a friend. In every one, my head is cut off at the eyebrows.


On our 25th anniversary I tracked down the minister who married us, and told him we were still together. He said, “That’s one I thought would never last.”

But it has. This half century plus one year has brought us great joy And some disappointment. But much more joy.

We made it.

We beat the bettors, and we beat the odds.

Google tells me that the Census Bureau has found that fewer than 5% of marriages in the United States last 50 years or more.

That pretty much matches our experience. My own parents missed by a few months. In anticipation of the Big Day, my mother took Dad to Stanley’s menswear store, and bought Dad a new suit. The prospect of wearing it caused the heart attack that took his life, so I have thought. Mom buried him in the new suit – the only time he ever wore it (excluding the fitting at the store, of course).

Longevity was endemic in Dad’s family. He had aunts and uncles two lived 100 years or more – and that was three generations ago.

My mother’s parents were married for more than 50 years. The celebration of their anniversary, in 1952, is among my earliest memories. It took place in St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Williston. It was the only time that all of my mother’s siblings were together. She was the fourth of a dozen children of Joseph and Margaret Kueffler.

So perhaps it was genetics that helped us reach this milestone. I think no, though. I think it was a sense of adventure, a willingness to compromise and an implicit trust that linked us – and carried us along.

51 years! And more to come.

Mike Jacobs is a former editor and publisher of the Grand Forks Herald.

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Opinion by Mike Jacobs
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