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April 30, 2013

Platinum milestone: Local couple set to mark 70th anniversary

SAEGERTOWN — Walter and Virginia Leonhart of Saegertown feel they live a routine life, tending to household chores, going to church on Sundays, shopping from time to time and celebrating their marriage — 70 years in the making.

“Wally and Ginny,” 92 and 87 respectively, are rounding the corner on what will be their platinum anniversary on May 22, another milestone in the fond memories that punctuated their past.

What’s the secret to 70 years of marriage? Work toward what you want and walk away from trouble.

“We just did what we wanted to,” Wally said. “We never fought. We argued at times, but we never fought.”

“We live just like everybody else,” Ginny said. “We’ve had our good times and bad, ups and downs.”

Their collective good times started to roll at a rollerskating rink in Springboro, where they first met around 1941. Ginny lived in Albion at the time and her mother would drop her and her sisters off at the roller rink periodically.

“That was the only thing to do in those days — no television or anything,” she said. “Wally was a really good skater. We still have our skates.”

Wally courted his bride-to-be until he was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II in 1942.

During his term with the 194th Field Artillery, he traveled to Africa and several countries in Europe, including Italy and France, and earned five Bronze Star medals.

Wally was on leave when he returned home and popped the question — sort of.

“I said ‘If we’re still going around like this in a year or so, let’s get married,’ and she said, ‘OK,’” he chuckled.

Neither half of this time-tested couple can remember the exact details of Wally’s proposal, but Ginny did recall her dismay when her fiance went back to war.

“The only thing I remember is that I was mad you didn’t tell me you were going overseas,” she said to Wally. “You told my dad.”

Although she was slighted at first, Ginny was true to her word and she wed Wally in the spring of 1943.

“We couldn’t find the name of the church, but I remember where it was,” Wally said. “It was a little place on Pine Street in Meadville, just above South Main (Street). It’s torn down now.”

No more than 60 people attended their wedding and only one member of the original wedding party is alive today, according to Wally.

“Phyllis Baer is the only one surviving,” he said. “She was our little flower girl; my aunt’s daughter.”

Wally and Ginny still have their wedding book complete with guest list and list of gifts, one of which was a single dollar.

“In those days, a dollar was good,” Ginny said, gently turning the worn pages.

After a brief honeymoon in Erie, Wally was geared up to head back overseas. In the meantime, Ginny held her own on the homefront, working various jobs until Wally’s authorized discharge in 1945.

She aided the war effort with Keystone Ordnance Works, an approximate 1,400-acre TNT factory in southern Crawford County’s Greenwood Township. KOW was shut down after World War II.

Wally decided not to re-enlist, but rather settled down briefly around Venango with Ginny and her parents before the couple established a home in Saegertown and had two children, Nevin and Rebecca.

Wally and Ginny worked odd jobs to an extent until they opened up a branch of The Spudnut Shop, a franchised doughnut business, which they kept for about 17 years.

“The schoolkids used to come there after school all the time,” Wally said. “We were on North Street in Meadville. It was a nice business.”

After their days in food service, the couple most fondly recalls their numerous wedding anniversaries, particularly the 50th and 55th, golden and emerald, respectively.

“Our 50th was basically a second wedding,” said Wally, pointing to a commemorative plaque with a picture of him cutting a cake with his wife. “We reread our vows and had a big, full-course meal.”

Wally and Ginny spent their emerald anniversary in the Emerald Isle on a trip to Dublin, Ireland. They took subsequent trips to parts of England, Scotland and Wales.

“We went to England about 15 years ago,” said Ginny, explaining their tours taken by bus and ferry. “Someone was making announcements for birthdays and celebrations and I said, ‘I hope they don’t say ours.’ No sooner had the words left my mouth than the announcer mentioned ours.”

A friend of the couple had orchestrated a small celebration on their trip, complete with several cakes, one of which they left with a waitress instead of trying to take it through airport customs.

“We’ve had good friends throughout the years,” Wally said. “We’re good friends with a lot of our neighbors.”

Wally and Ginny aren’t able to travel much these days, but they’re just as content with a small family get-together in honor of their 70th anniversary, allowing any plans their children or three grandchildren may have this year to unfold.

“I hope I make it to 100 and our 75th anniversary,” Wally said. “We’re not looking for a big occasion, just something nice and quiet.”

When asked how they describe their 70 years together, they casually replied, “just routine.”

“We get along all right,” Wally said, smiling. “We try to agree with each other. If we don’t agree, we wait a while and then agree.”

Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at

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