Collette and Jerry Koch just celebrated their 69th wedding anniversary. Being married for 25 and even 50 years is a huge milestone. But being married for 69 years? Absolutely remarkable.

What’s the secret to being married for so long? I sat down with the couple to find out.

The couple, who lives near Fordyce, Nebraska, has six children, 22 grandchildren and 25 great grandchildren. Their recent anniversary celebration was with a zoom party, the entire family was able to attend and the couple could see everyone during the call.

I ask the couple how they met. Jerry laughs, “Well it’s kind of a long story,” I laugh and encourage him to tell me all of it. It started back when Collette was in the 2nd grade and Jerry was in the 1st grade, sharing the same grade school classroom in Fordyce, NE. Though Jerry was only at the school for 3 months so he could make his first communion, he knew that Collette Lange was another student in the small classroom. After he made his first communion, he moved to a different school.

Several years later, Jerry attended a play that was performed by the Fordyce school students. “And here there was Collette Lange, the Statue of Liberty in the play. I never heard her name or anything from the time she was in the first grade and I didn’t know if she existed anymore. So anyway, I took in the play and she looked pretty nice up there,” he reminisces with an ear-to-ear grin.

Though he was very bashful at that age, he mustered up enough courage to ask her to a dance and the couple soon began dating. After dating a few years, the couple got married and began their family. “The rest is history,” he laughs. “That’s officially how we met.” He continues, “Actually, if you take me into the same room, I can tell you exactly where she sat!”

The couple wed on January 9, 1952 on Jerry’s parent’s anniversary.

They held the wedding dance at the same site Jerry proposed, the Bow Valley dance hall. Though the weather on their wedding day was typically cold, there wasn’t much snow on the ground. They began the tradition of going out every year for their anniversary and have only once not been able go because of the weather.

Jerry was a dairy man for most of his life. After they were married, they continued to milk cows together by hand, doing this twice a day without fail. He remembers getting up early to milk the cows before he had to take the kids to school, until automated milking machines shortened the process. The couple continued with the dairy farming until they moved to their current house in 1991.

Jerry remembers farming with horses when they first started and later evolving to tractor farming. Collette helped on the farm and Jerry remembers their first time sewing oats in an end gate seeder. It was an extremely windy day and Collette drove the tractor while Jerry was on the wagon. Helping to guide Colette, Jerry had called out to her to move one more row over. She did. He called it out again and she moved one more row over again. During the rest of that day, no matter what he called out to her, she moved over a row, not clearly being able to hear what he was saying. Though they got off track, they were able to finish the field and call it a day.

Collette has many memories, but one that stands out is when their first daughter was grown and moved out of the home. She explains that she was a wreck during the adjustment, though it became easier as each child grew and moved out.

“Time really goes fast; I can’t believe that all these things took place in the time it did. I don’t know where the time all went but it floated by,” Jerry comments.

Farming took up most of their time as they raised their family, and the couple didn’t have much time for hobbies. They’ve since taken up several hobbies: putting puzzles together, playing cards with several card clubs and for about 20 years they attended dances around the area. They traveled often, their favorite trip to Germany to see some of Jerry’s relatives and they have traveled to Alaska for a square-dancing tour.

Like any couple, they’ve had their share of challenges. One of the active couple’s biggest challenges is the current Covid pandemic, which prevents them from activities with others and traveling. They take life’s challenges head on to resolve.

“Talk about it and get through it,” Collette explains. “You have to have God in your life too, to help you through things.”

Jerry adds that they talk about it and move on. “We don’t always agree on the same thing, but we talk it out, give in and go ahead.”

Collette reflects on Jerry’s best qualities, always being there for everything that she needs. “He’s a good guy to have around all the time.” With a laugh, she adds, “he’s not a good cook, he’s a good Koch.”

“Yeah, you can say that again!” Jerry adds.

Jerry comments on his admiration of Collette. “Well, I admire her very much for taking an interest in me.” Collette brought up cherry pie, Jerry’s favorite dessert that she often makes. “She’s been very good to me. She treats me well,” he grins.

Most important to the couple is being together, having faith and God in their life. We try to have a good night kiss and are through with everything before we go to bed,” Jerry mentions.

Collette adds “That’s right. And saying our prayers together, morning and night.”

The feel their family is crucial and keeps them busy and they are always thinking about them. They complement their children, who are great kids, get along well and helped on the farm as they grew up. They have so much pride in their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. “They mean a lot to us,” Collette smiles.

Their secret to a successful marriage? It took them each a bit to think of one. Jerry starts, “At the end of the day, have a happy comment for each other. It’s been a lot of years, but they’ve all been good years. We’ve had bumps in the road, we all have those, but we move on.”

“We’ve been very lucky,” Collette adds. “Take one day at a time and go from there. I think keep prayer in your life, that’s what I think is important.” Jerry nods his head in agreement.

Collette continues, “My religious upbringing was one of the main things in my life.” Born and raised a devout Catholic, she continues, “The Catholic faith tells you, ‘Once you’re married, you’re married.’ I made the commitment 69 years ago to stay with my husband and I think that’s something that needs to be done to keep marriages alive nowadays.” She believes that the commitment of marriage is not always taken seriously.

We talk about the commitment and the work it takes to make a marriage work, working at it just like you would a job. “You’re two people, and the older we get, the more we are alike, I think. We know each other.” She feels that it helps if couples understand and accept each other’s personality, traits, and qualities.

“Commitment is what you have to have also,” she continues. “Sometimes things don’t go quite right but they work out if you work at it.”