They were on a blind date but it was love at first sight for Willy Giesbrecht and Irene Lilley.
“I wasn’t going to let her get away,” Willy said. “It’s the same as when you go fishing. You know when a fish pulls hard, it’s a big fish and not a little stinker. I knew I hooked into a big one. She was a keeper.”
Four months after they went to a movie – they have no idea what one – the two were married on Oct. 6, 1956. The couple celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary this week, as well as Irene’s 83rd birthday, which was on Oct. 3. It was a quiet affair – in the old days they might have attended a square dance but it’s been a while since anyone swung their partners in B.C.
At one time, the Giesbrechts had their toes firmly in the square dance circle in the Cariboo. They started dancing in Boston Bar with five couples in a basement for something to do in the evenings, later forming their first club at 150 Mile House. At the time, they were living in Forest Grove, having retired there in 2010 after spending most of their married life in the Fraser Canyon.
“When we retired we were in the square dance movement. We were going to take a year or two off but I was calling at the time … that fall we formed our first club at 150 Mile. We were also dancing with clubs in Lac La Hache, Lone Butte and 100 Mile,” Willy said. “Unfortunately, the square dance movement in 100 Mile and all of B.C. is pretty much dead. There’s not the activity there used to be.”
The Giesbrechts, who now live at the Scenic Place Mobile Home Park in 100 Mile, had swapped square dancing for travelling a few years ago. They would take the fifth wheel to the local lakes, travel across Canada or head down south for the winters with good friends Rob and Judy Boehm. They gave up the snowbird lifestyle when the cost of insurance got too high.
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They both miss the square dancing, which they say kept them active and off the couch. “We used to have a jamboree here. It was nothing to have over 100 people or more,” Irene said.
But the couple has since found other things to do together. Willy does woodwork – he makes everything from salt-and-pepper shakers to napkin holders, while Irene works on colourful quilts. The two sell their crafts, along with those done by the Boehms, at the Heritage Market in the 108 on Saturdays during the summer. “It kills time,” Willy said.
When asked the secret to a long marriage, Irene suggested Willy go first, saying: “I want to hear what you say.”
He obliged. “The first thing you’ve got to realize is you marry the person for who they are,” he said. “It’s sort of a surprise package. You have to realize each person is their own person and have their own ideas and views. You don’t keep secrets and you never go to bed mad.”
Irene agreed, noting she tried to go to bed mad one time and Willy made her spill it, asking her what was wrong. “You put it right there,” he said, plunking his hand on the table.
Irene said the two of them also have their own interests. She quilts and would go swimming, while Willy plays in a band with his buddies. “It’s been really good,” she said.
As he wrapped his arms around his wife, Willy agreed. “I’ve rubbed her back for 64 years.”