By Andy Kauffman
HOWARD LAKE, MN It is often said that life imitates art, and in the case of Don and Dorothy Mitchell of Howard Lake, nothing could be closer to the truth.
“That’s me proposing to Dorothy,” Don says with a twinkle in his eye, indicating a black-and-white photo of a suit-and-spats-clad young man kneeling before a dark-haired beauty in a high-necked white dress. “It was for our junior class play in 1937, though not the real thing.”
The real thing was to happen three years later, when Don and Dorothy, along with a couple of friends to act as witnesses, borrowed her dad’s car and drove to Delano to get married. The date was May 31, 1940. They will celebrate their 75th anniversary May 31 this year.
Perhaps as foretold by their roles in the play, their real-life union reads like a beautiful love story. Both are native to the Howard Lake area, although they didn’t meet until Don started attending the town school in the fifth grade.
According to Don, Dorothy was always the prettiest girl in school, although Dorothy is quick to counter that it was a very small school.
They were in the same class throughout school, and even attended a year of business school in Minneapolis together before wedding in their late teens.
After they got married, the Mitchells continued to live in Howard Lake and before long, celebrated the birth of their first child, current Howard Lake City Council member Mike Mitchell.
Their tale of togetherness was interrupted by Don’s induction into the Navy in 1942, during World War II, although even this conflict could not keep them apart.
Don was stationed in Chicago, allowing the Mitchell family to grow with the addition of their first daughter, Linda, in 1943.
With the conclusion of the war, Don returned to Howard Lake in 1946, where Dorothy had established a small home for their family, which continued to grow when they welcomed Donna in 1947.
Don still served his country in peacetime, working for the US Postal Service until his retirement in the early 1970s.
Dorothy maintained the family home, raising their children until they were old enough for her to venture into the workforce, at which time she worked in local factories, including Tonka Toys in Mound.
Continuing their theme of togetherness, Dorothy retired shortly after Don so they could travel together. Most of their retirement adventures took them to the western US, especially Arizona, where they took up residence for a few years.
However, the lure of home was too great to overcome, and the Mitchells soon returned to Howard Lake.
“I got homesick,” confessed Dorothy. “We had new grandchildren at that time, our first ones, and I had to get back and see them.”
Even in the stillness of a recent cool spring day, seated in the pleasantly comfortable sunroom of their tranquil home, the importance of togetherness and family shines through. “We have six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren,” boasted Don with a grin. “They all come here and it’s a big hullabaloo.”
An even bigger hullabaloo is to be expected when family and friends gather with the celebrated couple in Memorial Park May 31 to pay tribute to one of the longest marriages in the State of Minnesota.
When asked about the secret to their unquestionably successful union, or any advice they may want to pass along to aspiring couples, the Mitchells appeared genuinely puzzled.
“I don’t know,” said Don with a frown. “We never had too much money, but we always had enough. We didn’t have big arguments. If we disagreed, we stayed calm, and talked it out.”
“It’s been about give-and-take,“ added Dorothy. “Work things out before you get too anxious. Rely on each other, and help each other out.”
Their humble reactions and simple responses seem to inadvertently reveal the very heart of their success, that a balanced life lived together with unreserved devotion can more than stand the test of time.