Seventy years have passed since the jock got down on his knees and proposed to the coed in June of 1941, but their love is as strong as ever.
“I thought he was kidding, and I laughed,” said Catherine Hazelwood of her husband Lee’s gallantry. “He was insulted!”
But she said yes, and all these years later, Lee Hazelwood still thinks his wife is the “same beautiful girl I blind-dated!”
The two met in high school in Shelby, Ohio, but weren’t formally introduced until the boy dating Catherine’s neighbor arranged for her to tag along on their outing with a boy self-admittedly more interested in sports than girls.
“Lee was my blind date,” Catherine said fondly. “We dated for a year or two, and then on Flag Day, he proposed. We were married that August.”
The secret to their longevity is respect for one another and the institution of marriage, she said.
“Together,” Lee added.
The Stayton couple celebrated their 70th years together three days before their Aug. 16 anniversary with some 75 friends and family members at the Stayton Community Center.
“It was wonderful!” Catherine said. “I think we have about a hundred cards right now. Our church pianist played Misty, which is my favorite, and Deep Purple, which is Lee’s. And there were several beautiful flower arrangements.”
Lee was a bit flustered by not giving his wife her usual dozen red roses, a gift she has received every birthday, anniversary and Mother’s Day since they first got together – even in times when, for a young husband, roses were hard to get.
“I told him not to as we already had so many,” Catherine said. “But he felt bad about that.”
But the man who still calls his wife “Babe” has no regrets about any other aspect of their relationship. “She’s always been number one for me!” he said.
The Hazelwoods lived in Dayton, Ohio and Trenton, Mich., before moving to Stayton in 1978. They raised three sons, Kent, Mark and George, and a daughter Kay. They weathered the loss of one child, but now enjoy spending time with their 10 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
Now retired, they spend much of their time volunteering.
“We’ve always been active in various churches where we lived and in other organizations,” said Lee, who spends time helping at Salem First Christian Church, advocating for seniors through Northwest Seniors and Disability Services and Santiam Senior Center, and in other activities.
Lee served eight years on the Stayton City Council, was a delegate to the White House Council on Aging in 1995 and 2005, and was appointed to a four-year term in the National Silver-Haired Congress in 1996.
Through NSDS, he serves on the legislative committee that oversees Oregon Project Independence, a program that helps seniors stay in their homes as long as possible. He also helped start two churches, one in Ohio and the other in Michigan.
Catherine served on the Stayton Library board that was responsible for expanding the facility, helped establish a women’s auxiliary at Marian Estates, served on parent-teacher groups, was a women’s fellowship leader and member of a church choral group, and volunteered for other community services. She is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Both Hazelwoods were avid golfers and loved to travel. Lee headed many church and job softball and basketball teams, and even turned to a chance to try out for the Cincinnati Reds in his younger days. “I couldn’t give up my seniority at my job,” he said modestly. He did, however, lead a church softball team to four league championships, he said. “No halo,” he added, keeping his athletic prowess in perspective.
As the couple bantered about their past, a few laughs dotted the conversation. They talked about their love for reading, their desire to travel, and their passion for staying active. “Sometimes our kids say, ‘Gee they’re never home!” Lee said.
“We’d like to travel more than we do now,” Catherine added. “But we still like to take rides around the area and go to the coast once in awhile.”
The Hazelwoods hope to spend many more years together, exploring and contributing to the world around them.
“He’s a keeper,” Catherine said.
Not to be outdone, Lee answered, “I think a lot of her.”