Schwartzes share secret of long marriage

Friday, February 14, 2014
Matthew Resnick/Tribune photo Kenny and Clara Schwartz have been married for 71 years.

Kenny Schwartz, 102, remembers the first time he laid eyes on his wife, Clara, 93.

It was 1938, and she was working as a part-time office secretary at Kenneth Pollock's KEY company in Fort Scott while attending Fort Scott Community College. Kenny was working for Master Printers in charge of their office supply department, and happened to be in the KEY offices on business one afternoon.

"We had four secretaries, and one of them Kenny knew real well," Clara said. "And he was in there talking to her, and noticed I was wearing a green corduroy suit, and was bent over a desk, and asked his friend, 'Who's that chick?' And she said, 'Down, dog. She's too young for you.'"

"That suit fit her like she was pulled into it," Kenny recalled.

Kenny graduated from Fort Scott High School in 1928 and Clara, who was born at Arma, graduated in 1938.

Clara was not formally introduced to Kenny that day. However, a little more than a year later, after KEY relocated its office to Wall Street, they met again.

"I was the youngest secretary on, the last hire, and so I had to walk to the post office up the hill from East Wall (St.), to take the mail about 4 o'clock in the afternoon," Clara said.

Because Kenny often cruised the streets of downtown Fort Scott in his early model four-door Oldsmobile, on several occasions he had noticed Clara on her afternoon stroll to the post office.

"And of course I had seen him and knew who he was," she said. "So one day he said, 'Hey, I'm going your way. I'll give you a ride.' So I rode with him a few times."

"Why walk when you can get a free ride?" Kenny added.

Kenny and Clara formally began dating in the fall of 1940 when Clara was 19 and Kenny was 29. Clara said Saturday nights out on the town, which included dancing, provided great entertainment for the couple when they first started dating. Kenny later enlisted in the Air Force, and was stationed in Arizona. In December of 1942, while on a 10-day leave, he came back to Fort Scott with one thing on his mind.

"I lived in a two-room apartment above Whiteside's grocery store on Third and Crawford," Clara said. "He came home on a 10-day service leave, and the first thing he said when he opened the door to my apartment was, 'Will you marry me?'"

She told Kenny he would have to get permission from her dad. Her parents lived on a farm south of Fort Scott.

"We went down there for supper, and it got to be about 10 o'clock, and he said 'I think the folks want to go to bed, we better go home.' And I said, 'Not until you ask my dad,'" Clara said. "So he asked Dad, and Dad said, 'Oh yes, we'll be glad to get rid of her,'" Clara said with a chuckle.

A few days later, on Dec. 16, 1942, the two were united in marriage at the Baptist minister's parsonage in Nevada, Mo. Kenny returned to the Air Force base nine days later on Christmas Eve.

This past December, Kenny and Clara celebrated their 71st anniversary. After 37 years spent with Southwestern Bell, Clara retired in 1978. She said some of her fondest memories include vacation and travel time spent with Kenny.

"We've traveled all over the world," she said. "We've been to Australia a couple of times, New Zealand, Japan and China, and all of Europe," she said. "We've been on 15 sea and water cruises. And we've been to every state (including Hawaii and Alaska) except for North Dakota. We had a big world map, and framed it on our wall downstairs in our rec room. And every place we traveled to, we marked off on the map."

Over the years, Clara said people have asked her how they have managed to stay married for so long. Kenny summed it up with two important words, "Yes, dear."

"And don't you forget that," Clara added.

"You have to understand, when you're married, two people are not always going to agree," Clara said. "But usually when we went to bed at night, we had it all worked out. You have to have a positive attitude. You have to not expect everything to go right all the time. Sometimes kids get married now, and the first little flare up, they're gone. You need to be cooperative, and it's enjoyable when you are."

In addition to their two children, Susan Brown and John Schwartz, Clara and Kenny said they have enjoyed helping to raise their six grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

"We're one big, happy, loving family," Clara said.