Roxanne Henke

I still remember the first time I saw him. I was sitting cross-legged on the stage of the old Bison fieldhouse at North Dakota State University. The physical education instructor was telling us there had been 10 marriages over the years from the ballroom dancing class we were about to start. I looked over my shoulder and there he stood, late to class and very cute.

I’ve never been great at math, but there were way more girls in the class than guys. And at some point, we were probably going to pair up. So, when the teacher told us to form a line, I made sure I was standing right by him. After teaching us a little footwork, she said, “Pick a partner.” I quickly turned his way.

It’s been 18,250 days. Half a century. Five decades. However you say it, 50 years is a long time. That’s how long my college dance partner and I will have been married on Feb. 12. Gosh, even I can’t believe it and I lived it.

Please indulge me on a trip down memory lane.

We got married on a Tuesday in my mother’s living room. (No one has ever accused me of being traditional.) Unlike most young women, I had never daydreamed about my wedding. My dad had died, so walking down an aisle without him seemed lonely. I greatly dislike being the center of attention and having people stare at me, so having 13 people (including a photographer) gathered near the fireplace was perfect. My sister served as my maid of honor, wearing her prom dress.

“Back then,” writing your own vows wasn’t popular, but I told the pastor while I could promise to love and honor, I couldn’t say the word “obey.” He changed it to “cherish.”

I remember two things most from that night. First was the way my soon-to-be-husband stared straight into my eyes as he said his vows. (I’d barely turned 20 and suddenly this seemed very, very serious.) And, I remember the red velvet wedding cake my mom and I had made earlier that day. We did such a terrible job of frosting, it looked like a red velvet polka dot cake. (We laughed as we were doing it, and it still makes me laugh.)

The looks of the cake didn’t matter. My on-sale wedding dress ($60) was perfect. I thought my mom was making too much of a fuss by ordering flowers through our local grocery store. I did my own hair in the bathroom. I painted my nails, which was about the only time in my life I’ve worn nail polish, just so they would look good in the photos showing our rings, which were cheap, even back then. My ring was $50. I found out I was allergic to the metal and didn’t wear it for many years. My husband surprised me with a new one I got to pick out on our 11th anniversary. My “new” husband didn’t like wearing a ring and wore his for about one week. Then it went into my jewelry box, where (I think) it still is. None of those “little things” mattered. What mattered was we loved each other and were making a commitment to be together.

Unlike wedding couples today, we didn’t jet off to Europe for a honeymoon. We took a road trip, stopping for our first night in Pierre, S.D. On a Tuesday night in February, in South Dakota, who would need reservations? It turned out we did. We stopped at the nicest hotel in town. There was no room in the inn. We stopped at the next nicest motel. No room. There was no “looking things up online.” We drove from place to place. It turned out the Legislature was in session and lawmakers and lobbyists had filled the town. Finally, someone suggested a last-ditch stop.

Even barely 20-year-old me knew this was not going to be the honeymoon of anyone’s dreams. The whole place looked dingy. But, other than finding a stable to sleep, this seemed our only choice.

We carried our small suitcases up the two, rickety, wooden steps leading to “the room.” Opening the door revealed a sagging double bed – and that was about it.

I slipped into the bathroom with the neon-pink satin nightgown my mom had sent along for my “romantic” honeymoon. The bathroom was miniscule. I did my best to get into that nightgown, but every time I bent over, my “behind” hit the water heater and I snapped to attention. Eventually, I got the nightgown on, but I was laughing so hard. No one, ever, had planned this for a honeymoon.

I opened the bathroom door and stood in silhouette in the reflected light of the stark, white bathroom, the water heater looming behind me. I stepped into the dingy room, with the sagging bed and said to my  new husband, “Well, the good news is, there is nowhere to go from here but up.”

We both laughed.

To be continued.

Love lesson No. 1: The size and price of a wedding (or a honeymoon) has zero impact. Love is what matters.

Roxanne (Roxy) Henke always thought people celebrating 50 years of marriage were ancient. She’s changed her mind. You can contact her at