Busy and blessed: Sweethearts for 74 years still going strong

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec John Hescox and his wife Betty Lovell Hescox of Hollidaysburg talk at Holiday Bowl where Betty belongs to a senior bowling league.

Reade Township high school sweethearts Betty Lovell Hescox and John Hescox don’t remember their first date.

And that’s understandable because after 74 years of marriage, five children, 10 grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and 1 great-great grandson their life together has been busy and blessed.

Betty, 91, originally from Blandburg, does remember going ice skating and John, who grew up in Glasgow, laced up her skates — even though he didn’t ice skate himself.

“He liked to watch me,” she said. And John still does.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, John cheers for Betty as she participates in the senior league at Holiday Bowl, Altoona. Up until three years ago, they bowled together. A balance issue ended John’s bowling, but not his participation.

“Go get a strike, Betty,” John encourages as she steps into the lane. And, she does. A few frames later, Betty’s ball veers left and results in splits, so John advises her, “You have to move a board to the left.”

Betty slyly smiled. Later, when John conversed with another bowler, she said, “I let it go in one ear and out. I don’t pay attention. It makes him feel good and after this many years, you know when to keep your mouth shut.”

It’s the same quiet smile lighting her face when John said he was the better bowler before he stopped. Again, speaking with another bowler, John missed Betty’s assertion of being better and her admission they liked to compete.

After a bit of back and forth, Betty settled it diplomatically — explaining her average of 155 was the same as her husband’s 160 because he bowled with a heavier ball. Then, John admitted she’d been named “Bowler of the Week,” multiple times — an accolade he found elusive.

The exchange demonstrates what Betty said made the 74-year marriage successful: “We’re very compatible. You have ups and downs but you forgive and forget. You don’t hold grudges.”

Oldest child Patricia Carnell of Duncansville said her parents shared disciplinarian duties and worked as a team.

“My mom was never one to threaten ‘wait until your father gets home’ … we didn’t get disciplined a lot because we didn’t dare to misbehave,” Carnell said.

Carnell, 73, was born Nov. 6, 1945 — 10-months to the day after her parents’ Jan. 6 wedding. After their wedding, John attended his last months of high school and worked 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. in a nearby strip mine.

Then, upon turning 18, John entered the Army to serve his country in World War II.

Marrying so young wasn’t unusual back then, Betty explained, as wartime accelerated courtships into weddings. Neither Betty nor John ever dated anyone else.

“We just came together and stayed together,” Betty said. “It was supposed to be, I guess.”

John added, “We really grew up together.”

The war marked their longest separation — a gap filled by writing daily letters that took a long time to arrive, they said, unlike today with email and Skype.

John learned he would be a father two days before his deployment so Betty and their first child lived with her parents until John’s return. When he did, his daughter was 18 months old. Their other children followed. They are: Janice Ambrose, 71, of Orlando, Florida; Linda Ingerski, 68, of Culpepper, Virginia; John William, 66, of Roaring Spring and Mitchell, 61, of New Freedom, Pennsylvania.

Carnell, her husband Ron, her sister-in-law Phyllis, who is married to John William, bowl with Betty. John serves as family coach, moving from one to the other.

In between strikes, Phyllis said she couldn’t have asked for better in-laws — an added bonus — Betty’s pies and raisin-filled cookies are delicious. While Betty and John didn’t give marital advice upon her marriage 47 years ago to their son, Phyllis said, she “watched and learned from them the importance of not going to bed angry and always being honest.”

Betty agreed, adding “be truthful in everything. Hiding something from the other is no good.”

For their part, Betty said they treat all their children’s spouses as if they are “another one of our kids. Phyllis is very good to us.”

Betty and John said they feel very blessed by their long marriage and seeing their descendants.

“The Lord has truly been good to us,” John said. The couple has attended the Methodist Church in Hollidaysburg together for 50 years, but grew up in different Christian faiths.

Carnell believes the secret to her parents’ successful marriage is “their healthy respect for one another. They do fight from time to time but in the end everyone respects each others’ opinions. They’ve had a very healthy relationship because they’ve allowed each other to be their own person. They’ve always supported all of us kids and our endeavors. They’ve been there to support us when needed and have rooted us on.”

That ability to “agree to disagree” extends to politics. Betty and sons are registered Republican while John and the daughters lean Democratic.

“We never talk politics as we’re a house divided,” Carnell said. But Betty quickly disagreed and said she and John do talk politics — “but we know when to stop so it doesn’t get nasty.”

The couple agree their union has withstood many challenges: wartime separation, financial challenges and health struggles.

“Our love has been strong enough to get through everything,” John said. “She’s still my sweetie.”

The couple raised their children in Blandburg and in 1969 moved to Hollidaysburg when John was promoted to manager at Prudential Insurance. John retired in 1987 after a successful career. Once the children entered school, Betty returned to school herself and became a licensed practical nurse then worked with two Altoona obstetrician/gynecologists for the next 25 years.

Asked what advice they would give another couple, Betty said, “Be your own person, but learn to give and take.”

John’s advice: “Be a good listener and always think before you speak.”

Staff writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030.