By Tara Mathews
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Don and Helene Splettstazer of Lester Prairie have collected many fond memories during their life togeher, and they reflected on some of these recently as they celebrated their 70th anniversary.
They met at a bar in Superior, WI when Don traveled to Superior to work in a shipyard the summer of 1943.
“He came to pick me up from the beauty shop where I worked every day,” Helene said, “and we’ve been together ever since.”
After courting her for four months, Don proposed in Luck, WI with a diamond ring, he said.
“It was good luck that she said yes,” Don commented.
Don wrote home to his mother and told her he found an angel.
“When I came back to Lester Prairie, everyone wanted to know where the angel was,” Don said. “Back then, we only had about 400 people in town and everybody knew everybody.”
“I had a lot to live up to,” Helene commented.
Don and Helene were married March 11, 1944, in Superior.
In the fall of 1944, Don enlisted in the Marines, and went to boot camp in San Diego.
He was deployed to Hawaii for two years, where he became a barber for the troops at Marine Corps Air Station Ewa.
“I was so seasick going over to Hawaii that I never wanted to do it again,” Don commented.
Helene moved to San Diego, and lived with some people they had met, who became good friends of Don and Helene.
Helene worked at a beauty shop while Don was in Hawaii.
After two years in Hawaii, Don returned, and they moved back to Minnesota.
“We could hardly wait to get back to Minnesota,” Helene stated.
Don and Helene hitched a ride back to Minnesota with a man named Maury, whom they met in the check-out line at a grocery store.
“Anywhere we went, we met such nice people,” Helene said.
Maury became a life-long friend, and owned a hunting shack that he and Don used multiple times a year.
“I didn’t mind when he went hunting because he had new stories when he came back,” Helene joked. “Then, I didn’t have to listen to the same old ones anymore.”
When Don and Helene returned to Lester Prairie, they purchased a block and tile factory, called Lester Prairie Cement Products.
Don managed the factory, and Helene managed the office until they sold it in 1972.
Don and Helene lived with Don’s parents when they first returned to Lester Prairie, while they built the house they currently live in, which was completed in 1950.
“Don’s poor mother had to deal with us for five years,” Helene commented.
They have two daughters, Carol and Mary.
Carol and her husband, Calvin, have three children, Aaron, Nathan, and Elizabeth; and Mary and her husband, Kevin, have two children, Ellen and John.
The secret to a successful marriage
“If you want to be happy, you have to give each other space,” Helene said, “and be good to each other.”
Don’s many hunting and fishing trips gave them plenty of space, they said.
“I had a hunting house for 27 years in Alberta,” Don commented.
While Don was gone, Helene had their daughters and the factory paperwork to keep her busy.
Helene belonged to a bridge club for 35 years, also.
Helene reflected on a particular trip, when Don was gone longer than normal.
Don had decided to call Helene collect, and when the phone operator reached Helene, she said, “You have a collect call from Don, do you accept?”
“Don who?” Helene replied.
The phone operator told Don the woman on the other end said, “Don who?”
“You tell her the only Don she knows,” he replied.
Helene figured it out and they spoke, but Don’s hunting group decided that was too funny to let go, so they wrote, “Don Who” on his hunting hat.
“They called me ‘Don Who’ for years,” he said.
Don and Helene took many trips together, also.
For many years, Don and Helene had a motor home in which they traveled to many places in the US and Canada.
“We have always been surrounded by nice people,” Helene said. “The Lord was good to us.”
“Now, don’t make us sound too fortunate,” Don quipped. “Life has been good to us though.”
Don and Helene noted they have been blessed with good health, and they say that helps the marriage also.
Although, while for the most part they have had good health, Helene had a stroke eight years ago, leaving her left side paralyzed.
She was in a nursing home directly following the stroke, but now is able to be in their home because of Don’s help.
“Don has taken good care of me ever since,” Helene said.
Recently, Don and Helene had their 70th anniversary party at Crow River Winery in Hutchinson.
“So many people came,” Don said.
“We never thought that many people would be there,” Helene commented.
Don and Helene said they have met many good friends over the years.
“Family and friends are the most important things in life,” Helene said.