Caryn Haller

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February 14, 2014
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Small-town romance rolling for 65 years

Bob and Orla Onken grew up seven miles apart, but it took a small-town dance in Albee S.D., to bring the couple together.

The year was 1948.

“He came to a dance in my town. I took my little sister and wasn’t planning on staying very long,” Orla, 84, said. “Then that tall guy from Minnesota wanted to dance with me, and then we went from there to here.”

Not wanting the night to end, Bob asked Orla for a ride home.

“There wasn’t much to do at the time,” Orla recalled. “You could go to a movie, go to a dance or just drive around.”

A year went by when Bob proposed in the front seat of his own car. The couple was married Aug. 11, 1949.

“I was a teenage bride for 10 days, and then I turned 20,” Orla said.

Bob worked as a farmer for three years before deciding to go to college in Aberdine, S.D.

“I was a freshman at 29 years old,” Bob, 88, said. “I went one year and got a teaching certificate.”

Orla also went back to work as a teacher while raising their 3-year-old son and 4-month-old daughter.

“In 1961 we drove to Las Vegas,” Bob said. “We didn’t think we would like it, but they took us to a rural part of the city, and a couple days later we signed contracts to teach at schools there.”

Bob built the family a house with his own hands where they lived for 30 years.

After retiring, The Onkens moved back to South Dakota where they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary surrounded by family and friends.

“We didn’t argue much. I think with Bob, he just went out to his shop. The key is to know when to shut up,” Orla said of how to make a marriage last. “And either one of you has to be self-sufficient. It’s nice having the other one, but not having to be 100 percent reliant on that person.”

Bob and Orla moved to Gardnerville 12 years ago, where they were active in the Carson Valley United Methodist Church. Bob sang in the choir and hand-carved wooden toys, cars and decorations for the annual craft fair. Orla painted and knitted.

In 2012, the Onkens sold their home and moved into Carson Valley Senior Living in the Gardnerville Ranchos

The couple share a two-room suite with separate twin beds in the bedroom.

“We’ve had twin beds as long as we’ve had houses with small bedrooms,” Orla said. “This way it works out.”

When asked what he loved about his bride, Bob answered, “her ability to get things done.”

And for Orla the answer was, “the things he can do with a hammer and saw.”

Bob is now legally blind and Orla is half blind in one eye.

Orla is a member of a knitting group, and Bob still sings along when the Methodist church holds weekly services at the residential center.

Although it seems like a lifetime ago, when Orla looks at Bob she still sees the tall, dark-haired boy from Minnesota who asked her to dance more than six decades ago.

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The Record Courier Updated Feb 14, 2014 08:34AM Published Feb 14, 2014 08:38AM Copyright 2014 The Record Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.