By Paige Lambie
This past Valentine’s Day was the 65th wedding anniversary of Darrell and Lavelda Smith. What started out as a very reluctant blind date has turned into a beautiful love story that continues today. Who would have thought that a young man from Virginia, Illinois would win the heart of a young woman from Beaver, Oklahoma (the cow chip tossing capital of the world)? Well, that’s exactly what happened.
Lavelda Maxine Phelps, born April 2, 1933 in Beaver, Oklahoma, left home with three of her childhood best friends to join and become some of the first women in the United States Air Force. She had never left home before and soon found herself all the way in Great Falls, Montana working for the base commander. One evening, her neighbor in the barracks, Barbara, had plans to go on a date with a young man named George, her only stipulation being (she didn’t know him very well) was that George bring a friend and she would bring one, as well. That was the night Lavelda met Darrell (who was only invited because he owned a car). Born January 11, 1932, in Virginia, Illinois, Darrell also found himself transplanted in Great Falls. The group went to the theater for their date where they saw “The Greatest Show on Earth,” afterwards Darrell walked Lavelda home and told her he would be calling, to which she replied “Sure ya will.” When asked if he kissed her goodnight, he responded “Lord no, I don’t even think we spoke two words the whole night.” He called her two days later.
After only having dated for a few months, Lavelda was ordered to fly up to Washington, where there had been a plane crash, to escort a fallen airwoman’s body all the way to California. While she was gone Darrell realized how much he missed and cared for her, so he purchased a ring, and after three months of dating he proposed. Darrell and Lavelda’s first child was named after the fallen Airwoman that Lavelda had escorted home – Pat. Pat’s mother had “adopted” Lavelda as her own after the loss of her daughter. After they announced their proposal, Darrell’s mother wrote to Lavelda angry and bitter, “he was much too young, he wanted to attend art school when he left the service and she was ruining that for him.” Lavelda never responded and simply burned the letter. They were married on February 14, 1953 in a small chapel in Great Falls after eight months of dating. The base Colonel took them out to eat afterwards and told them that it was his treat, as they barely had a penny to their names.
Three months into their marriage, Darrell was sent to Labrador, the northeastern most province of Canada. One month later, Lavelda realized she was pregnant with their first born. She separated from the Air Force early and went home to Beaver, Oklahoma to have their child, Patricia Jean, who was born on January 30, 1954. Darrell separated early and was finally able to meet their child, three months after she was born. Lavelda was uprooted again when they decided to move to his hometown of Virginia, Illinois to help at his family farm. They lived with Darrell’s mother, for three months when they first came home so that they could get settled and learn to take over the farm. In the three months that they lived with Darrell’s mother she taught Lavelda to cook, fearing that her baby boy would starve to death if she didn’t. In the time teaching and living together, Lavelda went from being the woman who ruined Darrell’s plans for the future to being adored and considered “the best cook out of all the daughters-in-law.”
The Smith’s went on to have a herd of five babies, one girl and four boys, and built a beautiful life for themselves. Anyone who worked for the farm knew to look for the pick up at the end of the field, there would always be a truck bed full of good, homemade food waiting for them. They farmed that land from 1954 to 1987 when Commonwealth Edison, a Chicago-based electric utility, bought all the farming land (a total of 15,000 acres) under the threat of eminent domain, to build a coal-fired generating plant, and all of the farmers were forced to move into town. That power plant was never built; the land was saved to become what is now known as Jim Edgar Panther Creek (formerly Site M). In the case of Darrell and Lavelda, they moved inside Virginia city limits and they have been there ever since.
They have made many memories together: they’ve travelled the country together, Darrell driving his motorcycle and Lavelda riding in her sidecar as part of a country-travelling motorcycle “gang,” they’ve shared many laughs and many tears but have never given up on each other in these past 65 years. Now 86 and 84, they may not be travelling the country on a motorcycle but wherever Lavelda goes, Darrell follows. Their five babies grew up to have 15 more babies and those 15 went on to have 15 (and counting, the babies never stop) … all because two people fell in love.