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Dick & Lorraine Dodge share in 71 years of marriage

by JoAnn Fox | Photography by Eric Tank
 
In the fall of 1940, the United States was still a year from entering World War II, the music of big band greats like Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller played over the radio waves—and Dick Dodge and Lorraine Zlotkowski were about to meet for the very first time. It was a meeting that would result, so far, in 71 years of marriage, the birth of seven children, 21 grandchildren and 34 great-grandchildren.
 
The pair first met in September 1940 at Harry and Carl’s, a westside soda fountain on Bridge Street in Grand Rapids. Lorraine was 15 and Dick was 17. She had come out with friends to go dancing; Dick was the drummer in the band providing the evening’s entertainment. Lorraine, whom Dick describes as a full-blown Polish Catholic girl, was attending high school at Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Dick, who came from an English Protestant family, attended Creston. Lorraine and her family had been parishioners at the Basilica of St. Adalbert in Grand Rapids since her childhood.
 
“She danced by with another guy,” says Dick, “and I said ‘I’d like to know that lady.’ At intermission, I went up and tapped her on the shoulder and asked if I could have the next dance.”
 
FAITH IS AT THE HEART OF MARRIAGE
After 71 years of marriage, Dick, 91, and Lorraine, who turned 90 in November, are often asked what their secret is. It’s clear, as they talk about their first meeting, dating and being newlyweds, that they
had that spark of attraction.
 
“She was beautiful,” says Dick. “I mean she had the most beautiful coal black hair and the brown eyes. I can still see her like that. Later, I discovered her gift of a joyful, but never frivolous spirit.”
 
Lorraine says she felt from the beginning that Dick was the man for her. Both came from strong family backgrounds and desired to have a family of their own; both shared an enjoyment of music and dancing and a love of camping and the outdoors. Having so much in common has contributed to their longlasting
love for each other, but, when asked, they place the success of their marriage squarely in the hands of God.
 
“It’s not our doing,” Lorraine says. “It’s the blessing of the Lord.”
 
“There are so many facets to it,” Lorraine continues. “There’s respect and you have to love each other and you have to be patient and you have to be selfless.”
 
“Oh selfless, yes,” Dick agrees. “You have to tolerate each other,” Lorraine continues. “I often say after I knew him I could have eaten him up I loved him so much. There were times I wished I would have.”
 
The first time Dick set foot in a Catholic Church was with Lorraine about six months into their  relationship. Lorraine invited him to attend Lenten evening services with her at St. James Church in
Grand Rapids.
 
In October 1942 Dick enlisted in the U.S. Navy. After three years of courtship, he and Lorraine were married on Oct. 26, 1943, when Dick was home from Norfolk, Va., on shore leave.
 
Lorraine explains that it was vitally important to her and her parents that she get married properly in the eyes of the Church. She and Dick were married in the rectory of St. Adalbert because Dick, at the time, was not Catholic.
 
“Monsignor Maksymowski took time, morning and evening and afternoons, and we just went through that marriage prep—we crammed it all in within about five or six days,” says Lorraine.
 
As part of their instruction, Monsignor Maksymowski asked Dick to pledge that he would never hamper
Lorraine from the practice of her faith. Not only did Dick never hamper her, he began to attend Catholic Mass with Lorraine on a regular basis following their wedding. Though at one time he’d said he would never give up his Protestant faith, Lorraine’s unwavering devotion to the practice of her Catholic faith became an example he wanted to follow.
 
 
“When we were married and she lived with me (in Norfolk, Va.), I was a non-Catholic,” says Dick, “(and) being away from (the Protestant) church in Grand Rapids I lost that connection, but Lorraine went every Sunday and every Lent and every holy day. I just went with her and when she left me (to return to Grand Rapids for the birth of their first child), I still went to the Catholic church and I said, ‘I’m going to see a priest.”
 
Dick did see a priest, Father Larry C. MacLeod, chaplain, U.S.N., and soon after that he was baptized and received first Communion on July 10, 1945. Within about three weeks, he was transferred by the Navy to San Diego and began attending Mass regularly on his own.
 
“I really wanted to have what she had,” Dick says.
 
ABUNDANTLY BLESSED
Dick and Lorraine raised seven children together—four girls and three boys: Richard, Jr. (Rick); David; Diane; Mary Beth (Mitzi); Deborah; Julie; and Michael. They have been parishioners at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Grand Rapids for 35 years. Over that time, they’ve served as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist; actively participated in the CCD program; Lorraine also has sewn the baptismal garments given to parents of newly baptized children as a gift from the parish.
 
Each of their children attended elementary school at St. Isidore Catholic School in Grand Rapids (now part of All Saints Academy) and all but one attended high school at Catholic Central in Grand Rapids. All of their children were married in the Catholic Church.
 
“It was a (kind of) training—always going to Mass,” says Lorraine. “It was just continuously feeding them. (We were) very involved with the Church and the children.”
 
For most of her children’s young lives, Lorraine was a stay-at-home mom. Lorraine entered the work force as a buyer for Steketee’s Department Store when their children were in their teens, however her
working days outside the home concluded when she retired from her position as a receptionist in a dental office. On the very same day, in March 1986, Dick retired from Steelcase, Inc.
 
Lorraine and Dick continue to find ways to put Christ at the center of their lives. For the last 11 years at every Christmas, the extended family has gathered at a local American Legion hall. The focus of their celebration is a pageant that includes a reading of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke and a live Nativity scene—Lorraine has kept a careful handwritten record of which great-grandchildren have and will have the chance to play the roles of Joseph and Mary. And with a new great-grandchild born into the  family every year since 2000, there’s never been a question about who’ll be baby Jesus.
 
WEATHERING THE STORMS TOGETHER
“We were great outdoor people,” says Dick. “We always took the children camping two or three weeks every year. And we, as husband and wife, have done extensive camping trips—three times to Alaska, 26 times to the Rocky Mountains, (as well as to) Canada, Newfoundland and British Columbia.”
 
Lorraine and Dick commented on the universality of the Church, saying that in all their days camping—from Alaska to Key West— they never had to miss Sunday Mass. They pray for all the devoted priests who served them by celebrating those Masses.
 
Dick and Lorraine made their most recent camping trip together in 2011. They were both in their late 80s at the time. That trip took them from Montana’s Glacier National Park into the Canadian Rockies and on
to Waterton, Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper.
 
“We camped for 30 days,” Lorraine says. “It was perfect.”
 
“Many times, the wind blew and the storms came, but we were safe inside our all-weather mountain  tent,” she continues.
 
During their married life, wind and storms also have come along. Some of these storms have been small, but others, such as the loss of their daughter Marybeth to breast cancer in 1983, left the landscape of their family life forever changed.
 
Lorraine brings out a book full of smiling photos of Marybeth, fondly known as “Mitzi” – a reflection of her life from childhood up through her own marriage and parenthood.
 
“It’s just Mitzi, like she’s here,” says Lorraine.
 
She says that their faith grew from the loss of their daughter. A garden housing the Stations of the Cross was built at St. James Church to honor her memory.
 
Through all of the ups and downs and their many years together, Lorraine and Dick have clung tightly to
their faith, their family, their parish community and to each other.
 
“Just the other day we were telling stories,” says Dick, who was with his son Rick, at the time, “and (Rick) said, ‘Dad, tell us a story.’”
 
“I’m going to tell you a story,” says Dick. “Thank you, Lord; thank you, Lord; thank you, Lord, for giving your daughter Lorraine to me.”
 
He taps his finger gently on the table for emphasis each time he utters the words “thank you.”
 
“She’s not only my best love, but my best friend, too,” he says.
 
Lorraine adds, “The older we get, the longer we’re married, (the more) we feel his presence in our lives guiding us, taking care of us.”