More than 75 years later, Peggy Gundel still remembers the first Valentine’s Day she spent with her future husband.
She was a senior in high school living with her family in Longmont, Colo. She opened her front door, and there was her high school sweetheart, Ken Gundel.
“He was standing there with a big grin on his face and a box of heart-shaped chocolates, which I thought was absolutely wonderful because I never had anybody give me a box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day,” Peggy said.
The couple got married fresh out of high school on Feb. 9, 1940. After 75 years, their love for one another is still as strong as ever.
Since that first Valentine’s Day, Peggy, 92, said Ken never forgot a holiday. But it’s not just holidays — he lets her know how special she is every day of the year.
“I’ll get up in the morning and there will be a note on the table, just telling me that he loves me,” Peggy said. “He’s always been good at telling me that he cares about me, and I think that’s important. It’s been important to me, anyway.”
She said communication has been key to their relationship. Ken, 94, said he tells her he loves her every day “so she won’t forget it.”
“And we do forget things quite often,” Peggy said.
But it hasn’t all been roses.
When they got married, Ken was working at a grocery store in Longmont making $15 a week. He was fired because he wanted to take Peggy to a New Year’s Eve party and refused to show up for inventory.
So they moved to Portland, Ore., where Ken worked in a shipyard and they had their first daughter, Carole. But World War II put a hitch in their plans for a family. Ken quit his job and enlisted in the Navy, serving from 1942-46 in the South Pacific.
Peggy didn’t even know where Ken was during most of the war. Ken said not a day went by that he didn’t think of his wife and baby.
Ken’s battalion built planes used to bomb Japan. He remembers one day a pilot came up to him and asked if Ken would go on a bombing raid with him. Ken agreed. But two hours before the plane was supposed to take off, he thought of his wife and child and told the pilot he didn’t want to go.
That plane was shot down. The crew on board was never found, Ken said.
“Our life has been that way ever since we can remember,” Ken said. “We are just so blessed, we can’t even tell you how blessed we are.”
After the war, Ken found a job working for Consolidated Supply in Portland. He worked there until 1972, and the job required him to manage branches throughout the Pacific Northwest. They had three kids by then, and each time Ken moved, Peggy and the kids moved with him.
In 1972, Ken bought Bellingham Supply Co. and owned it for seven years before selling the business in 1979 to travel with his wife. They had homes in both Arizona and Lynden until this year, when they decided to stay in their Lynden home year-round.
Greg Gundel, their son, said the two are completely independent. Ken still drives, though Greg wishes he wouldn’t.
The reason the couple has lasted so long, Peggy said, is simple: They love each other, they love people around them, and they don’t hold grudges.
“I think that’s why we’re living as long as we’re living, is because we’re content. We don’t have tension on the inside of us all the time. We’re happy,” Peggy said. “”If you’re unhappy all the time or carry grudges or won’t forgive people...you’re hurting yourself. And when you get rid of all those things, you are relaxed, and you can enjoy life.”
For Ken, the trick to a lasting marriage is remembering to appreciate one another.
“People should take time out every day and think about their life, and think about their partner,” he said. “Because no one is perfect.”