Married 65 years, Northland couple die just hours apart
Their song was "It Had to be You," and it was aptly symbolic for the seven decades Superior Central High School sweethearts Mary Lou Pouti and Maynard Peterson spent together.
They were certain of their love through war and 65 years of marriage. This week, they were together through death -- Maynard passed away Friday morning just hours after his wife.
"They were always together," daughter Julie Aili of Esko said of her parents, who eventually settled in Cloquet.
For the couple's two daughters who lived close by, the passing of both parents within 24 hours was testament to their bond and a great relief. They're not sure what either one of them would have done without the other.
"It's really something," Robin Johnson of Esko said. "It was like a blessing."
"It's easier this way," Aili said.
The irony is that Maynard, 85, and Mary Lou, 86, were apart in the end. Aili said the two moved to an assisted-living facility more than a year ago. Maynard recently became ill with stroke-like symptoms and went to a facility with more intensive care.
The daughters took their mom, who had suffered a fall and wasn't doing so well herself, to see their dad this week.
Mary Lou would hold his hand.
"I miss him so much," Aili recalled her saying.
"Isn't he beautiful?" Johnson heard her say.
Mary Lou suffered a heart attack and stroke 17 years ago and Maynard fiercely took care of her, Aili said. He was protective of her, sometimes too much so, the daughters said.
Without Maynard at her side, Mary Lou died Thursday, probably because of a blood clot that had formed after her fall.
Aili said she and her husband, Phil, went to tell Maynard on Thursday night.
Phil held his hand.
"Mary Lou has gone home to the Lord," Aili recalled saying.
They aren't sure if Maynard was responsive enough to take in the news. Phil said he's certain he felt something, "a little bit of change," Julie Aili said.
They prayed that he would join her soon.
"I just couldn't believe it," Aili said of getting the call about her dad at 7 a.m. the next morning.
It was the dancing that cemented their relationship. Maynard always said that Mary Lou was the only one who could keep up with him. Even with five children, they made a point to have date nights. Maynard worked at what was then known as the Potlatch paper mill in Cloquet. Mary Lou held office jobs around town.
Maynard would work several nights in a row and then have time off for the dancing, Aili said.
They met at People's Drug Store in Superior, where Maynard grew up. Mary Lou went to high school there while staying as a nanny with a family, a common practice for children who lived in rural areas.
They went roller skating and dancing. Then came World War II.
"She waited," Aili said.
And she made sure Maynard wouldn't forget her. She was learning piano and played the "It Had to be You" melody into a recorder. She included an "I love you, Maynard."
The tape was a huge hit overseas with Maynard and his Army pals.
"They loved it," Johnson said. Maynard admitted that women had flirted with him while away. But his fellow soldiers would remind him of Mary Lou, that sweet-sounding girlfriend back home.
"They said don't pay any attention to them," Johnson said. He didn't.
He came home, they married, and that was that.
There will be a memorial service at 10 a.m. March 30 at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Cloquet.
Even in their last years, they were together with their walkers as they roamed the care facility.
"She'd say: 'I got my horse, let's go,' " Aili said with a laugh.
"They were inseparable."