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Surprise party thrown for Salmon Arm couple celebrating 75th anniversary

‘They were there for us and I am pretty damn satisfied’
Community members recently threw a surprise party for Salmon Arm’s Mary and Lawrence Williams in celebration of their 75th anniversary. The couple was married on Christmas Eve in Reston, Manitoba. (Barb Brouwer photo)

Waltz or foxtrot?

It’s not the steps they remember, it’s the power of that one dance that sparked a 75-year marriage for Mary and Lawrence Williams.

At 19, Mary was living in Reston, Manitoba where her father owned a grocery store, and 20-year-old Lawrence lived 75 miles north in Foxwarren.

“We met on persuasion of one of her friends and one of mine,” laughed Lawrence, who had made the trip to Reston to attend a spring dance towards the end of May 1948.

“In a small town – you knew all the boys, so for a handsome young man to show up was quite exciting,” said Mary with a mischievous grin. “He was so handsome and so different – a mystery to be unravelled.”

The magic of that one dance remained with Lawrence, who was soon wooing Mary with walks in a park, bicycle rides and animated conversation.

He proposed on July 15, gave Mary an engagement ring on her birthday in October and married her at 7:15 p.m. Christmas Eve in Reston United Church.

“We had to be early so people could get home to fill stockings,” laughed Mary.

Lawrence recalled that as of Dec. 20, 1948 there was four feet of snow on the ground and that it was fortunate he and his family lived north of Reston.

“The main east-west roadways were blocked by snowdrifts, but the wind had cleared the north-south roads,” he said, pointing out that the Prairie wind had created huge snow drifts that closed many of the roads.

After a brief honeymoon in Regina, the couple settled in Woodnorth, Manitoba.

“The following year we started our movements,” said Lawrence, with an infectious laugh.

Between 1949 and 1969, the couple moved from Manitoba to Saskatchewan, to Alberta, back to Manitoba, then Alberta again, before finding their place in B. C.

“There was nothing further west so we had to stop,” says Lawrence.

The couple arrived in Salmon Arm in 1969, accompanied by their four children, 19-year-old Keir, 16-year-old Kerry, Rhonda, 11 and three-year-old Gwen.

They purchased Ell Dees Drive-In located at the top of Tank Hill on the site of the current Interior Health Outpatient Lab. The restaurant, which offered dine-in and carhop service, was situated on one acre that boasted 17 apple trees and a trailer.

“We tested a red apple milkshake and it drew people back,” says Lawrence with pride. “And the young people of the day still call us Mom and Pop and ask us to make them a hamburger.”

At the end of four-and-a-half years and having had only two days off each year, Mary and Lawrence sold the restaurant.

“We were tired,” noted Lawrence, who pointed out that the couple had also been operating what is now Finz Restaurant in Blind Bay, a coffee shop in Sicamous and a business renting and selling tent trailers. As well, Mary catered some five meals per weekend to busloads of people from Calgary and Edmonton that the Barker family was bringing to view their new Blind Bay Estates development.

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In 1974, the couple sold off all their businesses, kept one of the trailers and travelled across Canada. While they were in St. John’s, New Brunswick, Lawrence called to accept a job as personnel and member relations manager with Salmon Arm’s Mainline Co-op. And, upon their return, Mary became manager of the new Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. In 1991 she worked as a nanny in Pennsylvania for one year.

Lawrence finally retired from working, including 17 years of preparing income tax returns for up to 100 clients annually, in 2018.

That the couple continue to share deep and abiding love for each other is evident in their affectionate banter, laughter and attitude.

“We had so many shared interests and we liked doing the same things,” said Mary with a smile. “He was a family man and he was tidy.”

“We just fit,” Lawrence added, noting the couple loved to sing, were members of the Shuswap Singers and took up cross-country skiing at Larch Hills in 1980. “It is a comfort to have someone who cares about you and shares your hopes and dreams.”

These days, the parents to four, grandparents to nine and great grandparents to 10 (with twins on the way), drink coffee at Tim Horton’s, go shopping and invite friends to their home.

Lawrence, who managed the local legion for 10 years, said being part of the Salmon Arm community has been wonderful and that anyone he and Mary meet become instant friends.

On Dec, 13, members of the community showed their appreciation. The couple thought they were meeting two couples for drinks and a meal at the legion, and were surprised to find the place filled with people ready to celebrate their 75 years of happy marriage.

“They were there for us and I am pretty damn satisfied,” said Lawrence proudly.

At 7:15 p.m. on Dec. 24, 2023, Mary and Lawrence were joined by another couple to celebrate their enduring love for each other with a festive meal at the Vernon Lodge.