Lessons from an Alberta couple celebrating 75 years together

If you’re looking for advice on how to achieve a happy marriage, you could learn a thing or two from John and Bertha Wingenbach.

The Edmonton couple, “both 96 years old and counting,” according to John, just celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary.

They married on June 3, 1947 — nearly five years before Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne.

“Our marriage was so natural … we moved from single to marriage so naturally that it just seemed like it had to be,” John said in an interview. “There was never any doubt.”

Their secrets for a successful marriage comes down to prioritizing three things, he said.

“The first one is very simple … choose the right partner,” John said. “Everything else will fall into place.”

The second thing, he said, is to compromise.

The third thing is to allow your partner to be their own person — “not try to change them into something else,” John said.

John and Bertha on their wedding day, June 3, 1947. ‘She looked beautiful,’ John wrote about his bride. (Submitted by Rodney Al)

John and Bertha grew up on farms in Saskatchewan and knew each other before they met again in Calgary when they were 20. Bertha was working at a hospital and John was a telegraph operator with the Canadian Pacific Railway.

“We became friends quickly and that soon developed into something more,” John wrote.

For John, the city was a scary place.

“When you’re far away like that, you meet someone from home. It’s a big deal,” he told CBC.

“So we became friends and it developed into something more. And a year later, we were married.”

Similarities in their cultural and religious backgrounds also played a part in bringing them together, John said.

“We were members of the Catholic Church, which we’ve kept up,” said Bertha.

“I have respect for him. He has the same for me.”

Before CBC interviewed John and Bertha, John sat down at a computer and typed nine neat paragraphs of memories of their life together.

“To this day,” John wrote, “I still consider marrying Bertha was my greatest achievement.”

Eleven guests attended their small wedding at a Calgary church. “Bertha wore a long white dress and long veil,” John wrote. “She looked beautiful.”

Church was followed by a restaurant meal and “croquet on the front lawn of Bertha’s landlord’s house.” At 5 p.m., the newlyweds boarded a Greyhound bus for Banff, where they enjoyed “five glorious days … using bicycles as our transportation.”

We were very seldom separate.– John Wingenbach

They settled first in Calgary. After some stops in smaller communities in Alberta and Saskatchewan, they landed in Edmonton in 1952. John’s telegraphy career came to an end. He moved into accounting and they bought their first home.

Their married life has mostly been spent together. “We were very seldom separate,” John said.

They enjoyed long walks — “I think maybe that helped our health a lot,” he said — and were content being at home, save for the occasional road trip across Canada or into the United States. John took Bertha with him on business trips.

Bertha and John reminiscing with photographs of their wedding day. (Liam Harrap/CBC)

The Wingenbachs’ marriage has been an inspiration to their three children and four grandchildren, who thought of them as a single unit.

“When I ask my grandfather or my grandmother a question, they very much know each other,” said grandson Rodney Al.

“And so the answers I get back when they’re speaking on behalf of both of them, each of them can speak for both of them very confidently.”

After a lifetime together, the Wingenbachs consider it a blessing that they still have each other.

“It’s probably the greatest blessing we have,” John said.

After their first 27 years in Edmonton, the couple moved to Lloydminster and then to Medicine Hat before returning to Edmonton about four years ago.

The couple live at Rosedale Seniors’ Living in Edmonton. They planned to celebrate their anniversary with family at home.

Bertha and John pictured together in an undated photo. (Submitted by Rodney Al)
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