GOSHEN COUNTY – On Thursday, it will have been 72 years since one Goshen County couple exchanged vows, and for Don and Betty Jo Mathis, that moment couldn’t have come soon enough.
“She had mean parents,” Don said jokingly. “We had our furniture all bought and paid for, but her folks wouldn’t let her get married until she was 18. By then, I was an old man – I was 19.”
Don first saw Betty Jo while working on a farm near Olivet, Mich.
“I left home when I was 16. I went from Detroit to work on a farm (near Olivet),” he recalled. “My boss was going with (Betty Jo) – I just saw her is all.”
Later, when Don attended senior year at a nearby country school, he and Betty Jo fell in love.
“I thought he was skinny,” Betty Jo said of her first impression of Don. “That, and honest. I finally caught him.”
The Mathis’ were married on a Friday evening, following a five-day wait for their blood test results, and six days after Betty Jo’s 18th birthday.
After living in two different apartments in Charlotte, Mich., the couple went to work for Betty Jo’s father on his dairy farm. Soon, they went out on their own.
“When we got married, Betty Jo went to church, because that’s how she had been raised,” Don said. “My family was irreligious.”
Don typically did not attend church, and when he did, according to Betty Jo, “he acted so bored.”
One day, Don received a call from his brother, who had left home when he was 13. In pursuit of a girl, Don’s brother had agreed to attend a church service – and it changed his life.
“He said, ‘I know now if I die, I’ll go to heaven,’” Don said.
Eventually, the Mathis’ were inspired to become Christians, as well.
“In less than six months, we had to learn the bible,” Don said. “During my third year of school, a church from out in the country called … and wanted three potential preachers that would graduate in May. They came to me, and I said I couldn’t be a pastor, so I didn’t go.”
The church reached out to Don again, and after some prayer and a congregational vote, Don became pastor of a small church on the lake near Stanton, Mich.
After preaching at various locations in Michigan throughout a number of years, a group from Grand Rapids School of the Bible informed the Mathis’ it had started another institution of theological learning – this one in LaGrange. The president of the school contacted Don about becoming a teacher at the school, but Don refused the offer, instead choosing to continue following his calling as pastor. Soon, the LaGrange Bible Church asked Don to preach.
“We were there 10 years, then we went over to Burwell, Neb., pastored for four years, and were asked to help start a church in Harrison, Neb. – we were there eight-and-a-half years,” Don said.
The Mathis’ returned to Michigan to pastor at Clarksville Bible Church, before Don finally accepted a teaching position at Frontier School of the Bible. Seven years ago, the pair moved to Torrington, where Don continues to preach two services every Sunday at the Goshen Care Center.
Throughout this time, Betty Jo raised seven children, and worked as a writer – including poetry, columns and commentary – and speaker.
“That was the one disagreement we had – we both agreed we wanted large families, but she wanted nine (children) for a softball team, and I wanted 11 for football team,” Don said, laughing.
Today, the Mathis’ children are scattered across the U.S. – but daughter Gayle Johnson, who lives in LaGrange, was in Torrington Friday for her mother’s 90th birthday.
“Dad is still mom’s favorite person,” Johnson said. “She enjoys talking to others, but she still just lights up when she sees him. They’re a wonderful legacy.”
“I didn’t come up with this statement, but if you’re going live that long, you’re going to have differences,” Don said of his secret to a seven-decade-plus marriage. “When you’re wrong, admit it, confess it, and when you’re right,
The Mathis’ also credited their faith and sense of humor for their long and loving relationship.
“On our first date, I kissed her and I said, ‘Well, it’s a little off-center, but it will do,’” Don said.
“Crazy guy, that was his idea of romance,” Betty Jo said. “I don’t know if his kisses are more centered now, but I like them.”
Don and Betty Jo’s family is hosting a card shower in honor of their anniversary. Those interested in sending a card may address it as follows: Don and Betty Jo Mathis, 1725 East M St., Torrington, WY 82240.