Tressie and Russell Steele have been married for 70 years. They give all the credit to God.
EVANS — The most challenging part of Tressie and Russell Steele's marriage began almost exactly one year after they tied the knot. He was drafted.
She was 18 and he was 19, the couple began their marriage on Oct. 1, 1951. Just a week after their one-year anniversary, Russell was enlisted in the Army and soon found himself far away from the love of his life and everything he'd ever known.
He was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean when he looked around him and couldn't spot a sliver of land. This was the first time in his life he was completely surrounded by water.
"I thought, 'Well, there's no walking back,'" Russell said.
It took 10 days to reach Germany, and he stayed there for 18 months.
How the Steele's came to be
It was like a scene from a movie.
Tressie had been going to a little white chapel church called Longview. One Sunday morning after service the congregation gathered and began chatting — this was, for many of them, their social life.
Several of the churchgoers arrived on horseback and as they were talking after church, Russell and Tressie struck up a conversation. The next thing she knew, he was offering to give her a ride home on his horse.
She didn't like riding horses, though. So they both walked alongside his horse as Tressie was traveling home. Her house had a long dirt driveway — she didn't dare let him walk down it though. She didn't want her father to see him.
Soon they began courting and would ride the one bus that drove from Point Pleasant to Ripley and catch a movie in town. It cost a quarter to ride the bus.
She was a senior at Ripley High School and worked in the principal's office in the afternoons, running errands for the principal. Sometimes she would head over to the post office to drop off mail and would stop by the hatchery in Ripley to visit Russell at work.
"We sneaked for a long time," Tressie said.
Then one day, as the happy couple was sitting on Tressie's porch, overlooking her family's farmland, he asked her to marry him. His heart was a moment away from leaping out of his chest when he got an answer he wasn't expecting.
"I remember this well," he said with a laugh.
She told Russell that he had to ask her dad for permission. It took him a couple minutes to muster up the courage to ask her father. Eventually, he found her dad in a field surrounded by cattle.
He didn't give Russell a hard time, but he could tell her dad wasn't completely thrilled.
Tressie's mother had a stroke some years before and was bed-ridden. She had become the home keeper while her dad was working.
They were married soon after her father gave his blessing.
They exchanged vows in a minister's living room in Cottageville. Russell gave Tressie some cash to buy a new suit, and she picked out a crisp all-gray ensemble.
For the next year, the couple lived with her family. Tressie filled her mom's shoes by cooking, cleaning and taking care of her five younger siblings.
Once Russell was deployed, Tressie constantly wrote letters to him. Sent via airmail, each stamp cost six cents. They have no idea how much money they spent on stamps during their 18 months apart.
Russell had the chance to bring Tressie over to Germany, but he would have to serve at least one more year. He knew he wanted to leave as soon as possible — his term was almost up. He didn't tell his wife about the offer until way after the fact.
Russell came back to the states on the same ship, with the same crew he departed with. Once he was bussed back to Ripley he was filled with nerves.
Adjusting back to civilian life was filled with obstacles. The men he was deployed with became family — they spent every day together.
As time went on, Russell's nervousness melted away.
Tressie soon became pregnant with their first child. It wasn't until 1956, though, when they moved into their first and only house, which is only a mile from where they first met.
When they moved out of her parent's house, Tressie became depressed. She had what she wanted: a nice home, a husband and a baby, but she wasn't used to being away from her family. She had been cooking, cleaning and caring for her younger siblings for so long, it became part of her identity.
Then she put all of her worries into God's hands.
"The good man upstairs," she said. "he's took good care of us."
As they sat in their matching brown recliners reminiscing on their 70 years of marriage, the couple insisted that God was the only reason they've made it this far.
— Katelyn Waltemyer (she/her) is the General Assignment and Enterprise Reporter for Jackson Newspapers in Jackson County, West Virginia. Have a news tip on local government or education? Or a good feature? You can reach Katelyn at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Kate_Waltemyer.