Fred and Betty Still celebrate 65 years of wedded bliss
by Lynn Colburn
Rocking back and forth on the front porch of his house, Fred Still, 91, smiles a dimpled grin and says, “Married to the same woman for 65 years, I don’t know how that happened. It’s been great.” His wife, Betty, 85, is sitting next to him, and with a glimmer in her eye, says, “I think he looks pretty fantastic, don’t you.”
The couple has been married 65 years and it hasn’t always been easy. In fact, at times it has been downright heartbreaking, but you would never know it when you see them look into each other’s eyes.
Betty Mosley Still’s mother died when she was just four days old. Her father was 35 years old and had eight children to take care of on his own. Betty feels blessed that she was raised by her father’s sister and husband as their own here in Jacksonville. Some of her siblings went with their father to Iowa and a few went to other aunts, but Betty grew up on South East Street.
Fred is from Brown County. Never afraid of hard work, Fred tells a tale of when he was a boy. His father had a team and wagon, and they would dig up and haul sand from the creek. They would fill the wagon to take it into town and go back to the creek three times. For all those efforts they would receive $8/ton, which consisted of a whole three loads!
Betty and Fred shared a common aunt and uncle who lived in Waverly. Betty explains that “a Still at another time married a Mosley and didn’t have any children. Fred was a favorite nephew and would go spend time with them.” Betty’s brother was also the same age as Fred and the boys would get together.
“In May 1951, the last day of school, I was a freshman and I went to my brother and his wife’s house,” recalls Betty with a smile as she looks at Fred, “and here comes this little guy with big dimples. Shy, oh, you can’t imagine how shy! You looked at him and he’d just drop his head. And he was 20 years old, that’s unusual!”
She said Fred asked her brother about her, questioning, “She’s pretty, do you think she’d go to the show with me?” But she was too young to date at the time. “My mother wouldn’t have let me,” says Betty.
When Fred heard she could not date yet, Betty recalls he asked her brother, “How old is she anyway? And when he told Fred that she was 14, Fred told her brother, “Well, I’m not taking out no kid, so I’m glad she can’t go out with anyone.”
But, Betty said he kept coming back. The next time he went to Waverly, he stopped by and so on. “I was 14 and noticing the guys,” said Betty. “My mother scolded me. She told me, ‘Now you leave him alone. He’s too old for you.’ And I guess at the time six years was a big difference when I was only 14.”
“Later we ran into each other at the fairgrounds by accident at the Fourth of July and again at the roller rink,” Betty recollects. “Then in the summer, he asked me to go skating with him. I thought I was so sophisticated when I told him, ‘I have plans with five girlfriends, I can’t break a date with them to go out with you.’”
“During a September celebration at the aunt and uncle’s house in Waverly, I asked him to go to a hayride and wiener roast with me. He said, ‘I’m sorry, I have a date and I couldn’t break a date to go any place with you.’ And I remember bawling my eyes out all the way home.”
Betty continued, “He dated a gal who was six years older than he was.”
Soon after, Fred and her brother went into the Army. “Again, I saw him when they had a get together for the boys who were going into the service,” says Betty, looking at Fred. “He, my brother and his wife brought me home that night. Fred asked if I would write to him. I told him he had to write me first and he did. He was at Fort Leonard Wood at the time.”
“In June 1952, he went overseas, and I continued to write to him,” says Betty, holding Fred’s hand and nudging him. “But they weren’t love letters, they were just letters. We wrote back and forth. Meanwhile, he was still dating this other woman in Pike County.”
During the war Fred was a heavy equipment operator. “I earned the rank of staff sergeant in just 18 months,” Fred says proudly. While in Punch Bowl during the war Fred and another man were charged guarding the grader equipment overnight so it wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands. “One night it was 30 degrees below zero,” Fred said, “I just kept moving to stay as warm as I possibly could. The other man I was with said, ‘I’m cold and I’m going in,’ so he caught a ride and went back to camp at one point during the night due to the cold, but I stayed where I was because I was told ‘never leave your post.’” Fred stayed by the equipment despite the extremely cold temperatures by himself all night. He said the next morning the colonel came by to check to see if he had any ill effects from the night and he is pretty sure that is why he earned his stripe. Fred said, “I’d have stayed in the army if it wasn’t for Betty being home and I knew I needed to get back to her because she was dating.”
“He came back August 5, 1953, on the first boat load back after the peace treaty was signed on July 27,” recalls Betty. “I, being the romantic I guess that I was, had visions of running to meet him and the whole bit. But I got back 10 p.m. one night after being with my sister at Terry Park at some celebration and there he was sitting on my porch.”
“That’s when I became his girl and have been ever since. He still thought I was pretty young, but I’d finished high school and was 17.”
Fred tried farming in Brown County in a small operation with his dad and his brother who was already farming with his dad.
After high school, Betty’s mom said she needed further education, so she enrolled in Brown’s Business College on West State Street. D.L. Hardin was the college’s president, and his wife was the main teacher. “Their son, Steve Hardin, was just a little bitty boy who ran through the business office at that time,” laughs Betty remembering. She took stenographic courses – and remembers going to the Dunlap Hotel, sitting for three days taking dictation from this man who was writing a book. “He was from the East,” says Betty. “Today I think, I can’t believe my mother or D.L. let me go to that hotel room and just take shorthand all day long and then transcribed it into the book. But D.L. did a lot of public stenographic work, and I had a lot of experience with shorthand and typing.”
Then in 1955 she started work for the state at the Air National Guard and was there for five years.
“Meanwhile in 1956, Fred and I got married,” says Betty, squeezing Fred’s hand and smiling. They were married at Central Christian Church and went on their honeymoon to Niagara Falls in New York. Betty said she was scared to death because she had never been that far from home.
By then Fred worked at Allis-Chalmers. “We were married six weeks,” explains Betty, “and there was a layoff of 800 people. I had never owed a dime on anything and here we were with new furniture, just married and, again, I was scared to death. But the next day Fred had a job at a meat processing locker where he then worked at for three years. After Fred’s uncle retired, he invited Fred to farm, and we moved to Waverly for three years. I quit my job and in 1960 and we had our little girl, Julie Ann, in October.”
“Then in 1962, we moved west of Murrayville on Harry Story’s farm in Scott County and our son, Kevin Fredrick, was in born October 1964.” Their children went to school in Winchester and Betty remembers, “We always had lots of people at our house. It was also the gathering place for the kids, so we always knew what was going on and we loved it.”
Julie graduated from high school in 1978 and went on to Quincy University and is now a teacher of literacy in Hannibal, Missouri and “had just been home for a visit that week,” Betty lovingly says. Kevin graduated from high school in 1982, then went to Lincoln Land Community College for a little while but chose to work at Walmart pushing carts instead. But he worked hard and became manager of his first store at age 25. “He was really a trouble-shooter for Walmart,” says Betty. “Before he was married, he moved 11 times in 13 years.” Then he got married and settled down in New York.
“In August of 1995, he drowned, and that is the worst thing that ever happened to me,” says Betty. “It has been 26 years, and not a day goes by when we don’t think about him. You never get over it.” Kevin died in a boating accident in New Jersey, leaving his wife and two children, 3 and 5 years old at the time. “He was a mover and a shaker. He was really a mix of the two of us. I always say Fred has the personality. People are always drawn to him, and Kevin was that way. But his was also straight down the line, pretty ridged and it was almost too much for one body I think,” says Betty.
Fred and Betty now have five grown grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, one born not long ago in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
By the time of Kevin’s death, the couple had moved to Jacksonville. They had farmed and raised hogs on the farm, but when the interest rates went up to 18%, they realized it was too tough. They were paying more in interest and loans than they were making on the farm.
Fred began selling feed for Vigortone Feed, a pre-mix feed company. “It was a job I enjoyed because I was still calling on farmers and people I liked,” said Fred. “I did very well selling feed and I would do things like plow a field for a farmer while he ate or finished up something else.”
“He could relate to the farmers, and they knew it,” Betty continued, “He did that! He is a true service man!”
Betty was working at the Wells Center, where she worked for more than 30 years. She retired at 79. She joked, “I guess they thought I’d never retire.” The Wells Center shut its doors just a year after she left.
Fred had always wanted to have a rental property, so the couple bought the house across the street and Fred fixed it up. Betty says Fred could fix anything! He did all the work on that property, and they followed that with others until they had up to 12 properties they rented around town.
Fred also started a painting and carpentry company called The Magic Brush and mowed lawns around town for six years.
In addition, friends of the couple who moved away had continued buying property and had the Stills manage their 67 old properties – 5 single dwellings and the rest apartments. The couple managed, cleaned and fixed those properties in addition to their own, while both working full-time jobs. “We worked all the time,” said Fred and Betty. “But we have never been afraid of hard work. At 85, Fred finally retired and we sold off our rental properties,” says Betty.
After Kevin’s death, Betty had also started and lead a support group for bereaved parents; she continued it for 12 years. She said it helped her and felt like her mission. Fred said, “She had great compassion for people and was very good at it!” Betty said every year they had all the bereaved parents together for Christmas. “Members always said they felt safe together,” she explained. “They didn’t have to explain to anyone or figure out what to do at Christmas. It was comforting to be together and they could enjoy the holiday together. We also had Fourth of July celebrations in the late 1980s and barbecued outdoors. We just really liked having groups around and enjoy having people gather together. And we really missed having people around during COVID.”
Like many, this past year was a tough time for Betty and Fred. During the winter, Fred fell and broke his hip and had his hip replaced. While at the hospital and in the rehab facility, of course, Betty was not allowed to visit due to pandemic regulations.
Betty says Fred spoiled her over the years and she had never had to pump her own gas. And while Fred was recovering, she drove one car to almost empty, then the second one to almost empty, then had to learn how to pump gas. “It is not as easy as it looked when you’ve never done it before!” she said. Thankfully, Fred was finally allowed to come home on January 11.
Their neighbor, Elsa Riva, said, “Betty was so excited when her ‘Freddy’ was coming home, she went to the hair salon to get her hair done for her sweetie.”
Betty says she thinks communication between couples is so important. “We didn’t always agree, but we always talked about things.” She says it also helps that they both have always worked hard. And she loves Fred’s optimism. “And beside being in love, you really have to like each other.” But Betty says she still hears Fred’s voice and something still goes “zing” in her heart when she hears it.
Betty says, “You can survive anything, even when you don’t want to.” The Stills have stayed together with distance and age as obstacles. Both have worked hard to build a good life together and for their family – and when tragedy struck, they embraced each other and showed their compassion to others. From young love to 65 years of marriage, this remarkable, caring and humble couple is an example to us all!