In 1949, Jodie Keiser was a pretty 19-year-old freshman coed at tiny Illinois College. At 22, Bob Falkenburg was a handsome Army lieutenant, a college junior on the G.I. Bill. When he asked her for a date, her friends warned her not to go. “He loves them and leaves them,” they said.
But not this time. She said yes to the date, yes to the fraternity pin two months later, and yes when he asked her to marry him only five months after that, when he was recalled to active duty. That was 66 years ago. Bob and Jodie Falkenburg have been inseparable ever since.
“I cannot imagine her not being with me or me not being with her, because we’re always together, and that’s a good thing,” declared Bob, as he and Jodie sat in the cozy living room of their Oak Bluffs Campground home recently and reflected on their lives and their rich marriage, a marriage highlighted by love, faith, family, and humor.
In the beginning
It all began when Bob noticed Jodie, “this charming young gal,” entering the dining hall at college. He was interested, but kept his distance, because she was dating another student. They got acquainted as friends, and sang together in the college choir.
“He was a ‘big man on campus’; everybody knew Bob,” laughed Jodie.
Finally, Bob couldn’t wait any longer, and invited her to his Alpha Phi Omega dance.
“We did a lot of talking, not much dancing, and we’ve been talking ever since,” said Jodie, looking back to Feb. 3, 1950. It didn’t take long for romance to blossom — they started dating, and in April he asked her to wear his pin.
“I was smitten!” admitted Bob. “I was looking for the woman I wanted to marry. Jodie was such a person — delightful, lovely, a Christian girl — that was what I needed.”
“When he told me he loved me,” said Jodie, “I realized I loved him too; I never had questions about it.”
Summer separated the sweethearts, who returned home — Bob to Westwood, N.J., Jodie to nearby Sterling, Ill.
“I kept the telephone company in business that summer,” Bob laughed.
That June, the Korean War broke out. Bob, in the Inactive Reserve, was at college in September when he was called to active duty. He phoned Jodie: “I told her absence does not make the heart grow fonder, and we should get married.”
He raced to her home in his jalopy, prepared to “do battle” to win her hand. But Jodie was all for it: Her family had agreed and offered help, and a wedding date was set for Oct. 22.
Jodie wore a flowing satin gown borrowed from her mother’s cousin for the wedding at the family’s First Baptist Church in Sterling, and carried a rose and orchid bouquet. Afterward, there was a simple reception in the church parlor; women from the church had prepared refreshments. It was all the celebration they needed. “It goes to show you,” Jodie said, “that you can have a lovely wedding without paying hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Married life, Army life
Soon they were in the jalopy, heading to New Jersey so that Jodie could meet Bob’s family. They drove from there to Fort Leonard Wood in Waynesville, Mo. — a tough Army town — and were plagued by car trouble the whole way. After a few months, Bob shipped out to Korea. Before parting, the couple agreed to read the same Bible passages every day, a way to keep their connection strong.
Jodie, only 21, returned to college; then an unexpected phone call changed her life again. Bob had broken his ankle badly while driving a treacherous mountain road. He was taken off active duty, and was flown to Battle Creek, Mich., where he faced a long recovery.
Jodie barely recognized the emaciated young man on crutches who greeted her. After three months of physical therapy Bob, still with a painful limp, left the hospital prematurely, determined to return to college.
Becoming a family
With Bob’s Army career finished, the young couple were at last free to start their life together. They settled in an attic apartment near the Illinois campus, where Bob finished his senior year. In 1953, Michael was born, the first of three children.
After graduation, Bob worked with delinquents and ex-convicts through a sociology department grant. A natural for the job, he befriended the troubled youths and gently counseled them. He later found office work miles from home, staying away all week. A chance encounter with a college friend led to a welcome job offer from the New York Telephone Co. in New York City. The Falkenburgs settled on Long Island, and Jodie learned to find her way around, a challenge for the small-town Midwestern girl. And then, in 1958, one day after Michael’s fifth birthday, baby Debbie arrived.
Their family was growing, and Bob transferred to AT&T in New Jersey, so the Falkenburgs bought a home in Waldwick, N.J., where they would live for nearly 30 years.
Pam was born in 1962: “our jewel,” Bob calls her. Bob commuted to work, and Jodie tailored her secretarial schedule to greet the children arriving home from school. They both worked hard, but money was tight; they’d save for weeks to go out to dinner. Beyond work, their time was filled with family and community. They performed in local theater, and Bob became school board president. They were good years, but in what seemed like the blink of an eye, the children were grown, and the next thing they knew, in 1984, AT&T offered Bob early retirement and he accepted.
Change, change, change again
Bob insisted their retirement home had to be an easy drive to Martha’s Vineyard, where his family had owned a vacation house since 1962. In New Hampshire, Bob, with his brother and nephew, built their “dream home.” The couple spent 16 years in this sprawling house overlooking mountains and forest, and traveled to the Island for summer months.
In New Hampshire, Bob taught English to adults, receiving a Chamber of Commerce award for his service. The family gathered every Thanksgiving; choosing the Christmas tree at a nearby farm became a post-turkey tradition.
At last, in 2003, the Falkenburgs moved to the family Oak Bluffs Campground house year-round, fulfilling Bob’s longtime dream. They settled in their new community, delighting in their neighbors and surroundings, the summer activity and the winter quiet.
The Falkenburgs attend Faith Community Church, where Bob is an elder. He is active with the American Legion, and works on counted cross-stitch embroidery, a complex craft learned years ago. Both are movie and choral concert fans.
In the summertime, Bob and Jodie’s house is bursting with activity and crawling with children and grandchildren. And as if there weren’t enough to keep them busy at home, Bob mans the information booth in town, and Jodie leads Campground tours.
Looking back, hanging In
The Falkenburgs are upbeat and down-to-earth when they describe their life together, and Bob adds amusing quips, but they’ve had their share of ups and downs. There were times when work and housing were hard to find, and money scarce — Bob’s dream of teaching went unfulfilled when he couldn’t afford grad school. There has been tragedy, too: Seven years ago, their daughter Debbie died of cancer. A bright comfort is Debbie’s oldest son, who now visits in summer with his own little boy, a new generation carrying on family tradition.
As she has for years since her first visit as a baby, daughter Pam comes for the whole summer with her sons.
“If Debbie were still living, she would be here in the summer too,” mused Jodie. “Our faith has taken us through some difficult times. Without that I don’t know what people do.” They often exchange prayer requests with friends, and all feel uplifted.
“It’s a big part of our lives, prayer,” Bob agreed.
Happy times, loving moments
The Falkenburgs count special trips, especially with family, as highlights of their lives together. They’ve celebrated many special anniversaries, including a trip to Disney World with Pam, Debbie, and their children, and a luxurious stay on a secluded tropical Island. For their 60th anniversary they joined an Island group for a canal cruise in the Netherlands. And for Bob’s 80th birthday, they went to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., with Pam’s family.
Thanksgiving and Christmas feature big Falkenburg family celebrations at Pam’s home in Acton; they are avid fans at her sons’ hockey and lacrosse games. And they keep in close touch with Michael and his family in Danville, N.H.
So, after six-plus decades, what is their secret for a long, happy marriage?
“I think you have to have a sense of humor,” Jodie declared.
“Oh yeah, we bicker, we bicker, we bicker,” said Bob.
“Over the least thing,” Jodie added. “And then all of a sudden we start laughing.”
“Because we realize how ridiculous it is,” Bob concluded.
“We do everything differently,” he confided later. “There’s nothing we agree on. That’s been the story of our lives — we disagree and get along very well.”
Laughing heartily, the couple listed things they disagree on, like right and wrong ways for draining silverware or covering the butter dish. He roots for the Red Sox; she’s a Yankees fan.
“That’s the kind of differences to have,” laughed Jodie.
“Yep, critical!” agreed Bob. “Things that change the world. We don’t agree. We never have. But it’s never been a stumbling block. We love each other. That’s important. I tell her that several times a day.”
“We end the day with a kiss,” said Jodie. “We start the day with a kiss.”
She held up the Valentine she gave Bob, bearing the message: “Our Love Is a Miracle.”
She added one more piece of advice: “Patience.”
“Oh yeah, I have lots of that,” quipped Bob and as their eyes met, both smiled, and they burst into affectionate laughter.