Laurence and Pauline Schwarm, Greensburg High School sweethearts, celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary on May 21 with family and friends.
The only boy in a family of five girls, Laurence was a farmer’s son from rural Kiowa County. His grandfather, Fritz Schwarm, and his grandmother, Marie, the daughter of a Navajo reservation teacher, were the first of the family to move to Kiowa County.
In 1913 Laurence’s father John and his mother Alice (Gierhart) Schwarm moved to a small farm northeast of Greensburg.
Marie had three girls while the family lived in a small farmhouse on the west side of the property.
“Well I guess the story was, my mom told my dad she wouldn’t have any more kids until he built a new house,” laughed Laurence. “She said she about froze to death in that old house.”
In 1917 a local builder name Van Fossen began construction on the Schwarm’s new home but he didn’t complete it until 1919 when he returned from serving in World War I. Van Fossen built a number of houses across Kiowa County and was, at the time, considered one of the top builders in the county.
Laurence was born on Feb. 24, 1924 and Marie had two more children, Maurine (Schwarm) Carr and Darlene (Schwarm) Erickson.
Laurence and Pauline still live in the house built by Van Fossen in 1919.
Their three children, Larry, Rodney and David were raised in the house. Laurence has lived there his entire life and he and his wife have lived their entire married life in the two-story colonial.
“I know exactly which room I was born in because I’m still sleeping in it,” chuckled Laurence.
“I was born little,” said Pauline. “They kept me in a shoebox on the oven door to keep me warm. Of course, I don’t remember that.”
Pauline (Cory) Schwarm was a city girl. Her family sold their wheat farm on the outskirts of Greensburg and moved to a house in town when she was young.
“The first real vivid memory I have is seeing a wheat field burn, because a combine had backfired or something,” recalled Pauline. “My mother was crying and I thought ‘how silly, it’s just a wheat crop.’ But of course that was their livelihood.”
The youngest of four girls, she was a self-declared “tomboy.”
Her mother Jessie (Tuttle) Cory was a homemaker and her father Emmit Cory worked for the Kiowa County Road Department.
She remembers walking more than a mile through a field to get to the Greensburg south grade school.
“In town we had a grocery store, a shoe store, a meat shop and two drug stores,” said Pauline. “My family lived a simple life. We always had chickens in the yard. We didn’t have anything and we thought we had a lot.”
Page 2 of 4 - Them
In 1938 Laurence’s school, formerly the Hopkins School, was consolidated with the Greensburg School Distric.
“I was a country boy, I didn’t know anything about what was in town,” said Laurence. “I knew two people in my class and those were two kids from my rural school. I was just scared to death. I didn’t know anybody, didn’t know where to go, the school was so big. It was terribly big to me.”
Pauline and Laurence were in the class, both planning to graduate the same year.
Pauline loved her math classes and Laurence played some basketball, “I don’t think I was very good.”
The couple barely noticed each other until their senior year.
“I think I met him them, but he didn’t impress me,” laughed Pauline.
Laurence says his old yearbook, which he still has, tells a different story.
“I don’t particularly remember first seeing her, but she was there,” he laughed. “I know she says I didn’t impress her, but in my old yearbook, it was the only year I was able to buy one, her name runs across two pages.”
But the couple began to date their senior year and traveled together with classmates and teachers on a senior trip to Wichita.
“It was my first trip to Wichita, to the big city,” said Laurence. “We watched the airplanes take off and that was a big deal for us country people.”
With gas rationing and a senior class of nearly 40 students, Laurence and Pauline were squeezed into the same car for the long and dusty trip.
“I think at that point you would have had a hard time getting him in one car and me in another one,” said Pauline.
The couple had dinners and went to see movies at The Twilight Theatre. They were both partial to romance movies and wartime newsreels.
On May 21, 1943, graduation day, the couple attended afternoon ceremonies, then hopped in their car and drove to Pratt to get married. They didn’t pick up their diplomas until the next day.
“Someone asked me the other day, ‘Aren’t you sorry you got married that young?’ I think ignorance is bliss, we just didn’t know the difference back then,” said Pauline. “But I’ve never been sorry I got married that young. At that time it wasn’t terribly unusual for young people to get married that young. Not common, but it wasn’t unusual.”
They said Laurence’s father had given his consent for the marriage, but Pauline’s mother didn’t know about it.
“I don’t think they disliked Laurence,” she added. “I think they had bigger dreams for me. I was going to be the daughter that went to college.”
Page 3 of 4 - After graduation they lived on the farm and Laurence helped his father in the wheat fields. It was wartime and although he had received one deferment, he was called to take a physical in spring 1945.
“I remember it was three degrees below zero,” said Laurence. “We rode an old train that stopped at every town between here and there. It stopped at Brenham, then Haviland, Wellsford, Cullison and so on. When I took my physical they asked me if I was still on the farm and gave me a 4F.”
A 4F classification was one of the lower classifications during WWII and the least likely to be called into active duty.
“They said if it had been two months earlier, I probably would have gone,” he remembered. “The war had turned by that time. It was getting closer to the end for Germany. They were making good headway.”
In April 1945 the Allied Forces captured the Reichstag just after German troops surrendered in Italy, signaling the end of the war in Europe.
“It was pretty tough going in those first few years,” Laurence said. “But it was a lot worse when we were growing up. We both grew up in the Depression so we knew how to accept what we had. If we couldn’t pay for it, we couldn’t get it.”
With three boys, which Pauline said “was enough,” the Schwarm’s continued to work the farm and Laurence took it over in 1961.
In 1966 he put in his first flood irrigation system and in the early 1970s his father passed away.
In 1974 Pauline was elected to the probate court, which eventually became the district court. She served on the local bench for 18 years.
In 1983 the couple celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary with an open house.
“I remember a friend said ‘Oh that is such a big deal, you have to have one,’ and she was right, it was very lovely,” said Pauline.
They don’t remember how they celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1993, but they took an Alaskan cruise and train tour on their 60th anniversary.
“It was wonderful,” she said. “But we came home so tired I didn’t know if I was standing up or sitting down.”
Their oldest son Larry has reserved the Kiowa County Senior Center for a celebration on May 21st this year for family and friends to join the two high school sweethearts in celebrating a historic and increasingly rare milestone.
“I see a lot more divorces than there used to be, nobody hardly ever makes that anymore,” she said. “There was a stigma against getting a divorce back in those days. You make your bed and you have to lay in it kind of a thing. I think people stayed together because people felt like they had to. When I was a judge I saw more and more divorces through the ’70s and ’80s.”
Page 4 of 4 - The rarity of such an anniversary can be a shock they say, with people asking the inevitable question ‘How have you made it work?’
“He’s had to take a lot, because he’s had to deal with a woman for 70 years,” laughed Pauline. “There’s a lot of give and take. I guess you have to roll with the punches. That’s the only way it can work.”
As for their 80th wedding anniversary plans?
“I hope we make it,” said Pauline, “but if we don’t, we made it quite a ways.”