ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
February, long known for its cold temperatures, also brings expectations of something that can warm your heart.
St. Valentine’s Day.
John and Edna Ratzlaff of Hillsboro have been each other’s Valentine for close to 64 years-61 of them as husband and wife.
“I think Valentine’s Day can be used for a good purpose,” John said. “It doesn’t have to be material like it is for a lot of people. We haven’t needed it to tell each other how much we love each other.”
What started as an introduction after a donkey softball game in Corn, Okla., has evolved into a lifetime commitment of love.
“We were both students at Tabor at the time we met,” Edna (Reimer) Ratzlaff said. “That was about 1940.”
While the couple couldn’t recall their first date, they do know it was the beginning of a 21/2 year courtship that culminated in their wedding Jan. 26, 1943.
“We had about 400 people at our wedding,” Edna said.
“It was a church with about 800 members,” John added. “We had a simple wedding with no attendants.”
With John having celebrated his 82nd birthday and Edna her 80th this past year, both said the opportunity to spend their lifetime together has been a blessing.
“I think the deep love we have for each other, and the commitment we have for each other, are what have made our marriage last for 61 years,” John said.
After John graduated from Tabor College, the couple spent several years in Africa as missionaries for the Mennonite Brethren denomination.
Upon returning to the States, John was an instructor at a Christian high school called Corn Bible Academy in Oklahoma.
“We really fell in love with each other and we loved to be together-and we still love it,” John said. “The Lord has given us the kind of occupation in which we could work together most of the time.”
Over the years, the couple was blessed with four sons-John, Don, Glenn and Jim.
Subsequent years have seen the Ratzlaff family increase to 13 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.
“We have four more great-grandchildren on the way,” John said with a smile. “It’s an epidemic.”
But one thing is certain-nothing is more important to the couple than their family and each other.
While the couple celebrates birthdays and anniversaries, they said Valentine’s Day can be celebrated throughout the year.
“Everyone should treat each other like it’s Valentine’s Day everyday,” John said. “They can show their partner how special they really are to each other.”
The couple agreed the time they’ve been able to spend together has only helped to solidify their relationship.
“I think commitment and sticking with things are something people can learn from our marriage,” Edna said.
John agreed, saying the times he spends with his wife are his most precious.
“We love being together as much as possible,” he said. “I always say that a person should treat their spouse like they are their best friend-and she’s my best friend.
“If there’s something special I want to do, she’s the one I want to do it with,” he added. “I don’t ever want to be without Edna.”
Recent years haven’t always been health-friendly for the couple. Edna has endured several physical ailments, but her steadying influence is always by her side.
“All I can say is that John has been terribly committed to me because I’ve had a lot of physical problems,” she said. “He’s had to take care of me for many years.”
John said it hasn’t been a problem for him to fulfill the role of caregiver.
“It’s been a privilege to take care of her,” he said. “I count that as my calling. She’s been limited in various areas, but for me it’s not a burden. It’s a calling and I love to do it.”
After being a pastor in the Hillsboro area and retiring after a stint at Cottonwood Falls, the couple has settled into their residence in an apartment attached to son Don’s home.
Although their hair has thinned and the color has changed, the love and affection the couple has for each other has remained constant.
“I don’t think much has changed over the years,” John said. “Our commitment has been steady and it’s probably actually grown deeper.”
“Our life has been pretty much what we had hoped for,” Edna said. “We don’t have any regrets about what we’ve done.”
The still youthful couple agreed there have been times when their love has been tested, but also agreed it’s better to deal with the problems head on, turning trial in jubilation.
“We simply deal with the rocky times,” John said. “We decided to stick it out. When things come out, we simply ask for forgiveness and go on.
“Our personal relationship is built around our relationship with our Lord Jesus,” John said. “We have daily devotions, because we believe the family that prays together, stays together.”
As Valentine’s Day approaches, things might not seem much different in the Ratzlaff household because they celebrate their love for each other every day.
“His faithfulness to me has been amazing, even through all the problems I’ve had,” Edna said.
“I can always depend on her and know that she’ll be there,” John said with a twinkle in his eyes. “I feel I’m really fortunate to be married to her because of her deep and unchanging love for me.”