Johnny and Doris Hartley (Courtesy/Hartley family)

Johnny F. and Doris A. Hartley, respectively 88 and 86, marked 69 years of marriage when they renewed their vows May 15 at Weather’s Park next to the Rosewood Residential Care facility in Salem where Doris is in residence. They were married in Reno, Nevada on May 9, 1952.

When asked what it takes to stay married 69 years, Johnny chuckles and says, “You put a zipper over your lips and know when to say nothing.”

In attendance at the anniversary celebration were two of their three surviving children, Renee, 58, and Rob, 64, four grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, their spouses, one niece and a great-nephew, five friends from church, and Doris’ caregiver, all from the Salem area. Five lifelong friends from Washington surprised the couple with a visit. Also in attendance were the director of Rosewood Residential Care facility and his wife.

“We had a nice day,” said Doris. “My great-granddaughter made the lemon-flavored cupcakes.”

Texas-born Johnny found work in the timber industry in Northern California circa 1951 at age 19. Rob recalled how his dad double-dated with a couple of friends when he first met Doris, then 17, who was the other guy’s date. Johnny and Doris fell in love, and a trip to Reno, Nevada sealed the partnership that has sustained them to this day.

In California, after their children went out on their own, they bought a motorhome. “We had the motorhome for ten years so that I could go from job to job and not be away from Doris," Johnny said.

Growing up in Texas, Johnny, who lost his mother at age five, had had a hardscrabble life. But the over six-foot man was tenacious and provided well for his family and for Doris, the love of his life.

“My dad, an electrical engineer, is a self-taught, self-made man. Dad can fix anything,” said Rob.

Johnny and Doris Hartley (Courtesy/Hartley family)

Notwithstanding the responsibility of a large family, the Hartleys opened their home to whoever needed help. This altruism is a legacy they passed on to their five children, nine grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

Renee, Johnny and Doris’ youngest daughter, said in 2003 their parents decided to settle in Salem and made a good life here, finding new friends, and a church community.

Rob said out it’s great to see how much his parents love each other and are best friends. He laughs when he remembers how his mom, Doris, set the rule that each Friday at 5 p.m., it was dad and mom’s date night.

There was, however, one other man who may have competed for Doris’ affections. That was singer Neil Diamond. Rob calculates his mother may have attended anywhere of up to 30 of his concerts. One time, for her birthday, Johnny, who takes her musical interests in his stride, took a vintage Neil Diamond record cover and turned it into a clock face.

Doris said, “I tell him that I was born to love him.” She added wistfully, “We had a happy life.”

Franca Hernandez is a writer in Salem. Contact her at [email protected]