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Seventy years of marriage merit the celebration of a lifetime

Lawrence and Marion Finifrock and Harold and Berniece Bergstrom are "birds of a feather." Not only are they related to one another, but both couples raised their families on farms in rural Barnum, and both were married in the month of March - 70 ...

Lawrence and Marion Finifrock and Harold and Berniece Bergstrom are "birds of a feather." Not only are they related to one another, but both couples raised their families on farms in rural Barnum, and both were married in the month of March - 70 years ago, to be exact.

This Sunday, March 16, the four of them will be guests of honor at a joint anniversary party to celebrate their time-honored love affairs, which have weathered the test of both time and circumstance to bring them a lifetime of happiness....

Lawrence Finifrock was born in Yakima, Wash., the son of a hard-working farmer.

"The only thing I knew growing up was farm life," said Lawrence, "so naturally that's what I tried after I got married."

His family lived in five different locations before eventually ending up in Minnesota.

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"We homesteaded in Montana in 1916," related Lawrence. "That was a no go from the start!"

The family moved on to South Dakota in 1920, where they lived until 1933 - the year they headed to Barnum.

"My brother, who had gotten married the year before, took a trip to Duluth," he related. "We were in the midst of the 1932 drought, and he reported the Barnum area was the only good area for farming that he'd found."

Lawrence was 17 years old when his family first moved to Barnum. Shortly after he arrived, he met a young girl named Marion at the Church of the Brethren, where their families both attended, and the wheels of fate began to turn....

Marion was born in Superior, Wis., the oldest of six children. Her father worked at the shipyards before going into partnership with his brother on a dairy and sheep farm in Prosit, Minn., near Meadowlands. The young Marion walked to the one-room school in Prosit every day.

Once again, times had grown increasingly tough for farmers, and her family eventually moved on to land north of Duluth in the Five Corners area, where Marion attended fourth through sixth grades at McKinley School before finally moving to Barnum.

"My aunt and uncle had found a place in Barnum," she explained, "and there was a vacant place just down the road from them - so we moved, too!"

Her family continued to farm, much like others who had relocated to that area.

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"Almost everyone in the area had cows at that time," she said, "though they weren't big dairies like there are today."

Marion was a junior in high school at the time she met Lawrence, who had dropped out of school to work on the farm.

"Farm work was more important than school at that point," he commented.

Their first date was a family picnic at Oak Lake. It turned out Marion's sister-in-law and best friend, Lillian Johnson, started going out with Lawrence's brother, so there was an immediate connection among the four of them.

Marion and Lawrence dated for three years before marrying, but in the meantime they spent as much time together as they could manage.

"We had a young people's group in the community at that time," said Marion. "We got together once a month, had parties and played circle games. One of the older boys in the group was interested in plays, and we'd put them on for the entire community."

Marion graduated from Barnum High School in 1935 - the Vale-dictorian of her class - and though she enjoyed school immensely, she chose to marry Lawrence instead.

"Most girls got married after high school in those days," she said, "and if you were married you didn't work out of the home."

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The two were married on March 27, 1938.

"That was during Depression time," said Marion, "so no one had a big wedding, but we were married at the home of the pastor of our church, with only our immediate family present."

Marion wore a rose-colored dress with a midlength skirt for the ceremony, looking very stylish - and very happy.

Following their marriage, the two bought a little house that had been vacated down the road from his parents' house, and they moved it to some land on his dad's farm. In later years, the two eventually bought the farm from Lawrence's parents and switched houses with them.

During the busy times of the year, Marion helped out with the milking, though by then their family had grown to include three sons and a daughter.

"I think back on those days and can't imagine how I did it all," she mused. "I baked all the bread we ate, had a big garden and canned hundreds of jars of produce. I also sewed and made all the clothes for the kids. During that time feed sacks came with printed material, and I made things out of them, such as aprons, sheets and pajamas."

Marion enjoyed networking with other women as part of the Extension Homemakers groups, and the two were both 4-H leaders as well. Lawrence served the school boards of Central and Barnum schools, as well as the Mahtowa Town Board.

Up until recent years, the two always had a big garden and harvested fresh vegetables for her to can.

"One of the hardest things [about growing older] was when I got so I could get down but had a hard time getting up and I just couldn't garden any more," said Marion. "I still miss it when the seed catalogs come..."

The two farmed for some 25 years altogether, though the farm income always came up short of what they needed, so Lawrence started working at outside jobs, first on the railroad and then at Diamond Match.

After their daughter was a senior in high school, Marion started working as a cook at Barnum Elementary, until one day she decided to apply at Moose Lake State Hospital, took their test and was hired at the age of 52.

"I did a little bit of everything when I started out," she related. "They had special classes for us in the mornings, and then we worked on the wards in the afternoons. When we graduated, we even had white nurse's caps and a graduation ceremony!"

She worked with the developmentally disabled, handling medications and helping with cleaning, and was assigned to a certain number of inmates who were her special charges. The last two years she worked with the chemically dependent.

"I learned so much about people. It was an eye opener."

When she left there after 10 years, she retired as a human services technician.

Lawrence got a job at the state hospital as well, working as a stationary engineer, and put in 10 years there, also.

"We used to work different shifts," said Marion, "and sometimes I'd be coming home from work just as he was going in. We'd meet on a country road and stop and talk."

They eventually sold the farm to their youngest boy, who farmed it for a while but had to eventually give up on it as well. Now, their granddaughter, Kristi Wickstrom, and her family live there.

During the Finifrocks' time in Barnum, Lawrence's sister, Berniece Bergstrom, and her husband, Harold, lived on Harold's folks' farm not far away, and for a time they all went to the same church as well. The two couples, it seemed, had more than a little in common....

Berniece, Lawrence's younger sister, was born when the family was living in Montana. She was two and a half years old when the family moved on to South Dakota and attended a country school through fifth grade. Her folks had been planning to sell their place and buy another farm, but the night before they were supposed to sign the papers, a tornado came through and picked up the whole building and blew it away. So, they decided to move to town, where Berniece went to school through sixth grade.

The Finifrock family ended up buying a farm north of New Underwood, where the children once again attended a country school.

"We'd ride on horseback to school, where they had a barn for the horses," she related. "Once, when there was a big snowstorm, the teacher dismissed school early and called our parents to come and get us. We tied the reins to the saddles of the horses and turned them loose - and they were home before we were!"

When it was time for her to go into New Underwood for high school, Berniece had to move into town and stay in a room rented from a family there, since there was no bus service.

"My parents had to take me in and leave me," said Berniece, "and then they'd come in and take me home for the weekends. It was lonely."

She was part way through her sophomore year when a devastating drought hit western South Dakota.

"Every bit of grass dried up, the fields dried up, and they couldn't raise any pasture for the cattle," she related. "My parents knew somebody in Minnesota they had kept in contact with, who told them, 'You'd better come up here. It's just like the Garden of Eden!'"

That's when they moved to the farm east of Barnum, where Berniece enrolled at Central School in rural Barnum.

"I got to Central School in the middle of my sophomore year," she recalled. "In high school you're usually kind of bashful anyway, and I stood out in the hall behind the door and I didn't want to go in. One teacher was so kind - she came out and put her arm around me, talked to me and helped me believe everything was going to be all right."

She graduated from Barnum High School in 1936 with her sights set on becoming a teacher.

"I wanted to be a teacher so bad," she said. "When we lived in South Dakota, my parents boarded the teacher from the country school, so I had a lot of time to talk with her and I used to get her teacher's magazines from her when she was done with them. I'd cut pictures out of them of things I was going to do when I got to be a teacher."

Sadly, however, there was no money in those days to go to college, so she got a job in town cleaning houses for a dollar a day. Happily, it wasn't long before she met Harold Bergstrom....

Harold's father had come to the United States from Sweden at the age of 10 and was no stranger to hard work. At the time Harold was born, his parents were operating a laundry business in Grand Rapids, Minn. When he was three years old, the family moved to a 40-acre farm east of Barnum where his father had been raised.

"He had a piece of land there, and he wanted to live off the land," said Harold. "At that time, it was quite a trend to live on the farm where you were your own boss."

Harold started out in a little one-room school, walking the mile and a half each day in all kinds of weather.

Once again, it was a country school where the children in his family got their start, going there on foot every day despite the weather.

"If we had a big snowstorm, the big kids went ahead and made a track for the little kids," he said.

His dad found he couldn't make a go of it on the farm, however, so he got a job on the railroad and was gone the whole week long, so the family had to run the farm.

"By the time I got through grade school, my brother had gone off and gotten work at the railroad as well. It was up to me to maintain the farm, so that ended my schooling. I just accepted it. I would have liked to go out and get a job, but there weren't really any jobs to be found, since those were the Depression years."

Things started to pick up, however, when he met 16-year-old Berniece at church one day.

"He used to play guitar and sing," recalled Bernice with a smile, "and that kind of hooked me in!"

The two began dating by going to church or youth group together, and sometimes they went out for ice cream.

"Jay Cooke was one place we used to go on dates on Sunday afternoons and walk across the swinging bridge," said Berniece.

Harold's parents finally decided to move to Duluth to be closer to his dad's job, leaving Harold behind on the farm.

"I had to get another housekeeper, so I got Berniece to come over," Harold quipped. "I had to get cheap help!"

The two were married in the parsonage of their church on March 6, only a couple of weeks before the Bergstroms decided to tie the knot as well.

"There really weren't any weddings in those days," said Harold, "just a marriage ceremony. Sometimes couples would get married at the church after the church service was over."

Berniece's mother helped her make a dress for the ceremony, something stunning but practical that she could wear afterwards.

"I did have a new suit for the wedding," said Harold. "My brother had bought a new suit, and he didn't like it, so he gave it to me!"

The two lived on the family farm for a time until his parents decided they wanted to come back and retire there. Then, Harold and Berniece bought a place of their own just up the road, built a barn, bought some land and were all ready to farm it.

They had three growing girls, however, and it didn't take them long to realize they just couldn't make enough money to send them off to college.

"All the money we made was going back into the farm because we started it from scratch," said Harold.

He instead started a job in town working for Lampert Lumber Yards in Barnum and eventually sold their cattle. Most of the time he spent shoveling coal, until five years later when he was promoted to manager.

They sold the farm in 1971, after the company asked Harold to move to North Branch to manage a new lumber yard there. Two years later, they moved to Moose Lake where he accepted a similar position.

Harold retired in 1979, freeing them up to do some of the things they'd always wanted to do.

"When we lived on the farm, we had cattle and chores to do," said Berniece, "so we'd do the chores, I'd pack a lunch and we'd drive to some scenic place as far away as we could go in half a day - and then come back in time to do chores at night. We'd go over into Wisconsin and various places in Minnesota such as Itasca Park or up to the mines."

"After we sold all the cattle," added Harold, "we could take time off because I'd get a two-week vacation. Then we'd go on a little bigger trips."

The Bergstroms used to belong to the Gideon organization and they would often go to the organization's conventions in Kansas City, Denver, and other large cities.

They built their retirement home near Chub Lake Road in Carlton, where they lived for some 20 years.

Today, the Finifrocks live at Evergreen Knoll in Cloquet, and the Bergstroms are still in their home in Moose Lake. And as the two couples approach their mutual 70th anniversary celebration, which will take place at Sandy Lake Baptist Church, they all look back on their married life affectionately - but matter-of-factly.

"Do we ever fight?" reflected Lawrence. "We've had a few disagreements, but nothing too serious."

Marion added that church has always been an important factor in both of their lives, teaching Sunday School and raising their children in the faith they grew up in.

As for their advice to young married couples just starting out?

"People are so different," said Marion, "and what works for one might not work for another."

"We've had only one argument," grinned Harold, " - we're still on it! We figured one argument would be enough."

"We've actually gotten along very well," commented Berniece with a smile.

"Her family have been some good in-laws," added Harold.

The two also laugh a lot.

"Sometimes too much!" chuckled Harold.

And as for their advice on making a marriage last?

"It isn't age that's taken a lot of marriages apart. It's just that they can't get along - or don't try," said Berniece. "We just thank God for every day," she reflected, "because you never know....We take one day at a time."

Pine Journal Publisher/ reporter Wendy Johnson can be contacted at: wjohnson@pinejournal.com .

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