February 22, 2012 - Atlas Twp.- Sam and Katie Bickley are celebrating a milestone this year that very few couples will ever achieve— 70 years of marriage.
Sam and Katie
Bickley, July 18, 1942 (click for larger version)
The township residents were given special recognition Feb. 11 at their church, St. Mark the Evangelist, in observance of World Marriage Day.
The 70-year mark will be officially reached by the Bickleys on July 18, and obtaining this anniversary has taken not only extraordinary commitment to each other, but good luck— Katie is 88 and Sam, 93.
"It's been a good marriage," said Katie.
"She's the best I got," said Sam, smiling.
The two met accidentally, he said, in March of 1942 while working at the AC Spark Plug Company in Flint. Sam was a foreman at the factory that was making 50 caliber machine guns. One of the girls working on his shift was absent and he asked for a worker from another department. They sent over Katie McCaughna. He made it a point to ask for her again, and then she joined the carpool.
Sam would pick up co-workers to drive to work. They had to be waiting on the street corner to be picked up, but he picked Katie up at her house.
On their first date, they went bowling. Katie, who had never been bowling, dropped the ball on her toe. It didn't hurt, she said, she had good shoes. They continued to bowl on most of their dates, going out for hamburgers in Detroit afterward.
"I liked him," Katie says simply.
"She was pretty good-looking," said Sam, proudly showing a framed photograph of a young Katie, a striking brunette."I decided right from the beginning. I told her parents I wanted to marry her."
About four months later, on July 18, 1942, Sam and Katie were married in the rectory at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Flint. About 20 guests witnessed the ceremony. A reception followed at the home of Katie's parents and was attended by 100 family members.
They honeymooned up north.
"Where else would you go in Michigan?" asks Sam.
They ferried across the Straits. The Mackinac Bridge didn't yet exist and wouldn't be completed until 1957.
The couple lived with her parents for a month or so, then bought a new home constructed by Gerholz-Healy Company on Walters Street in Flint. The 2-bedroom 820-square-foot home cost $6,000.
Katie stopped working at her husband's request.
Sam was eligible for a deferment as he worked in a factory that was producing war materials, but he enlisted in the Navy Sept. 3, 1943.
"The factory superintendent thought I was nuts for not taking the deferment and enlisting," Sam said.
In December 1943, Katie gave birth to their first child, a son named John Richard, who would die five months later from hydrocephaly. Katie traveled to Texas to join her husband, where he was stationed.
Sam never served overseas. The Navy sent him to school, including Texas A&M, and he did several training missions in Florida, where he was stationed before being honorably discharged in December 1945.
He and Katie returned to Michigan, but with all the returning soldiers, there was no work at AC.
He worked several different jobs, he said, as a jack of all trades, master of none.
Sam was president of the General Foundry in Flint for many years and was a general contractor in northern Michigan as owner of Pioneer Homes and Builders from 1974 until he retired in 2004.
Sam and Katie had four children they raised in the Flint area— Ann, born in 1946; David, born in 1948; Mary, born in 1949; and Christopher, born in 1957.
Katie graduated from Flint Junior College in 1963 with a nursing degree and worked for the Visiting Nurses Association in Flint before becoming the clinical director for Planned Parenthood of Flint until she and Sam moved to Atlanta, Mich. in 1974. She worked as a public health nurse in Cheboygan until she retired and was director for the Atlanta Senior Citizen Center before they returned downstate to live with Mary here in the township.
"Anyone can make it work," said Sam of the secret to a successful marriage. "You bend to fit."
"You give in a lot," said Katie. "He's always been head of the family. If he didn't like it, I didn't do it."
Mary chimes in.
"He's broad-minded, Mom," she says with a smile. "He pretty much let you do anything."
Mary notes that every night when her parents go to bed, she hears her father say, "I love you, Katie." Her mother responds, "What?" Then: "Me, too."
Katie and Sam are the proud grandparents of 10 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville