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  • 78th anniversary: A marriage built to last

    Delbert and Viola Bertin met in Phoenix in their mid-teens
  • After 78 years together, Medford couple Delbert and Viola Burton know a thing or two about sticking it out. In their mid-90s, the couple are a testament to the value of enjoying life and having a good sense of humor.
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  • After 78 years together, Medford couple Delbert and Viola Burton know a thing or two about sticking it out. In their mid-90s, the couple are a testament to the value of enjoying life and having a good sense of humor.
    Wed on Aug. 4, 1935, the Medford couple met in the early 1930s in Phoenix. She was a teenager and he was the older brother of a boy she knew.
    Now two years from celebrating eight decades of marriage, they say they didn't do anything special to stay married for so long.
    "There really ain't much to it. We just got married and that was it," said Delbert.
    "I came here to get some work. I found some work, and I guess I found more than that, too."
    Once owners of the Woodland Heights Market, the couple lived all around the region but mostly on a farm on Pioneer Road in Phoenix.
    Both from Southern Oregon, Delbert was born in Springfield but raised in Klamath Falls and moved to the Rogue Valley after his family "went broke" during the Great Depression.
    Meeting at Phoenix School at ages 14 and 15, Viola was intrigued by the slightly older boy who did gold panning and was fun to talk to.
    Equally as charmed by the girl with an easy-going nature, Delbert bought Viola a candy bar for their first date — a big deal at a time money was hard to come by — and would ask her to be his wife at the tender age of 16.
    Raising three children, she worked at Bear Creek Corp. for 32 years, and he would retire from Boise Cascade. Delbert teases that staying married wasn't too hard when "she worked days and I worked nights."
    Hunting elk and deer and tending their own land until their early 90s — they gave up hunting at age 91 — the couple, said granddaughter Sue Smith of Seattle, squeezed more living into each year of life "than most people ever try to."
    "They're not ordinary grandparents, let me tell you," said Smith. "The grandkids would spend summers at their place and there was no sitting around.
    "The irrigation pond was our fishing hole, and they had huge gardens. We went fishing and swimming and camping at Emigrant Lake. Grampa taught me to drive a car, a tractor, a go-cart, four-wheelers, how to ride a horse. They've always been extremely active. Even in their 90s, it's hard to catch them at home. They honestly just don't sit still."
    Smith said commitment to family and something beyond "self" is what defined the couple.
    Heartwarming stories from her own lifetime are too many to count.
    "They had several boats over the year, and we went fishing on the ocean often. I thought it was weird that my grandfather insisted on going out all the time with grandma even though he got violently ill from the waves. I'm not talking a little sea sick, I'm talking violently ill," Smith said.
    "The grandchildren would often drive the boat because he was so sick. I took him aside once to ask him why in the world would he still go out day after day and expose himself to such an awful experience, without hesitation he came back with, 'Because your grandmother loves it so much.' "
    With a grand tally of three children, 13 grandchildren and — counting a June 12 addition — eight great-great grandkids, the couple plan to spend their anniversary in Medford with their descendents.
    Of his newest great-granddaughter, Smith's first grandchild, Delbert quipped, "We got a new one, so they're bringing her down for us to look her over and see if we approve."
    Like her husband, Viola spoke of no secret behind the longevity of their marriage and is hardly concerned at the idea they've been married longer than most couples could imagine.
    "People just have to get along. If not always, then they have to at least just try," Viola said.
    "We always got along in hard times and just talked to each other and laughed and had fun and loved each other and our kids. You've just got to stick with it."
    Always good for a laugh, Delbert said an easy-going nature helped achieve nearly eight decades of matrimony.
    "The doctor asked me how come we was married so long," he said.
    "I told him I learned early on to say, 'Yes, dear' right quick, and then I could go ahead and do what I wanted to do and she would be happy with me.
    "And I'm the senior, so I'm the boss ... when she's not here."
    Love, "sticking it out" and a good sense of humor, said Smith, just might be a recipe for success.
    "I have no doubt my grandparents will make it to 100," she said.
    "And still be as happy and sarcastic as they've always been. And just as much in love."
    Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.
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