'You can't go wrong with roses'

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Joan and Wes Young share what they believe the key to a long lasting relationship is.

"I was smitten at first sight," Wes Young said of his wife Joan. After 56 years of marriage, two children and several grandchildren, the couple is still as much in love as ever before.

Wes and Joan were brought together by Wes' cousin Sheryl Ann's wedding held in Earlham, Iowa, in December of 1965. Wes got his first look at Joan when she was getting off of her plane at the Des Moines, Iowa airport. He said this was back when you could go out to the gate and welcome passengers. Wes said he can still remember the way that Joan's long blonde hair was blowing in the wind when she exited the plane. For him, that was it.

Wes and Joan were partnered up by his cousin for the wedding party and, despite the fact that Wes had a girlfriend at the time, the two hit it off completely. Wes said their first kiss was in the basement of the church where his cousin was married, while his mother and girlfriend stood at the top of the stairs.

When the wedding ceremony was over, the two had to part ways. Wes was from Ames, Iowa, while Joan had transferred from Wartburg College in Iowa to Augsburg University in Minneapolis. Wes said at the time, his cousin was concerned about their long distance relationship.

However, during the spring of 1966, Wes' cousin Sheryl and her husband Tom were staying in a trailer home west of Ames, Iowa, where Wes was staying. So, Wes invited Joan down to celebrate the spring festival of Veishea. She stayed with Sheryl and Tom and she and Wes were able get to know each other more.

That summer, Wes said Joan invited him up to celebrate the Fourth of July with her in Willmar, Minnesota. He told The Register how glad he was then that his parents had bought him a car -- a 1963 Biscayne former police car -- so he could make the drive. Wes said he and Joan spent a lot of time at the Norway Lake either swimming, fishing or riding in a small fishing boat.

Wes had to return to Iowa then for his summer school classes. He remembered the beautiful scenery that Iowa State had to offer and how he noticed, one day while studying, an elderly couple sitting together in central campus. Wes explained the sight was incredibly romantic to him and he decided that would be the perfect place to ask Joan to marry him.

In the fall of 1966, Wes invited Joan to attend his college homecoming with him. Wes recalled how cold it was the night following the homecoming game, when he and Joan walked to the spot he had seen the elderly couple sitting together. Wes said Joan burst into tears and cried long enough that he thought she might say no. Of course, she said yes.

He said the first time he had ever been pulled over was when he was going to Minnesota to tell Joan's parents that they were engaged. When he told the officer his reason for being in such a rush, Wes said he was let off with just a warning ticket.

What Wes called the hottest hour of summer 1967 was when he and Joan were married. The night before they had dinner at Fireside Restaurant and Joan gave Wes a watch engraved with their wedding date and initials and Wes gave Joan a ring with two pearls ­-- one white and one black.

After their wedding, which happened after Joan's junior year of college, Wes knew it would be more difficult for Joan to finish school. The newlywed couple decided Joan should finish her schooling and then Wes would come back to Ames and finish his senior year.

He said living in the "big city" of Minneapolis was a new adventure. He was a self-proclaimed farm boy who grew up on around 600 acres of farm land. So the change was one that he had to get used to. But with Joan at his side, he didn't mind.

Wes graduated with a degree in psychology and Joan graduated with a degree in social work, both becoming clinical social workers. Wes said his interest in the field grew from Joan's. He explained while he was finishing up his senior year of college Joan worked at a treatment center for emotionally disturbed children.

"She would come home and for 45 minutes to an hour she would have to debrief or process. So I learned a lot just listening to her," Wes said.

Wes went into the military and worked for the child psychiatry services at Sam Houston. The military experience for Wes was great because he got to teach and do a lot of "neat" things such as go to the symphony of the center for performing arts in San Antonio, Texas.

Sadly, in 2003 Joan became very ill and Wes believes that this sickness exacerbated her symptoms of Alzheimer's. Wes said he began to think about retirement and did so at 2005 from his position as executive director of the children's home in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Wes and Joan moved to Richmond because their younger daughter and her family lived here, though they were transferred shortly after. While in Richmond, Wes cared for Joan as she was dealing with her Alzheimer's symptoms. However, when the care became too grave, he sought out the help of Dominion Senior Living.

Amanda Henninger, community relations director, said Dominion Senior Living's main goal is to keep families together and to make the transition as easy as possible. One way that those at the living senior center made that possible for Joan and Wes was by bringing Joan in during the day to participate in their memory care programming while Wes stayed in an apartment on the premises and explored his own daily interests.

The couple would reconnect at dinner and Joan stayed the night at the apartment with Wes. This helped Joan to transition into living at Dominion full-time.

"We like to say that we tango instead of tangle," Henninger said.

Wes now lives back in the home that he and Joan originally moved into here in Richmond. However, he still visits Joan daily.

"I always like to come to the special events they have, so that I can experience those with her," Wes said.

He said the couple does some traveling as well. Back in the day the two traveled a lot, but now their outings are limited to about an hour car drive.

When asked if he had any big Valentine's Day plans for Joan, Wes said he would most likely bring her roses in her favorite color -- a tie between pink or yellow.

"You can't go wrong with roses," Wes said.

Towards the end of The Register's interview with Wes, he began to get choked up, saying he tries his best to stay positive. He is thankful for Dominion Senior Living and the life that they have been able to provide for Joan.

"She was, and is, a keeper," Wes said.

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