As a young bachelor Ray Sandey had a strict policy of never coming to a dance with a date and never leaving with a young lady either. That was until he met Marie.
Marie liked to dance, and she was a great dancer — graceful and light on her feet. She recalls how it was love at fist sight.
“He was a good dancer,” Marie admitted, smiling as she looked over at Ray.
Was it love at first sight for Ray?
“Well, I wonder,” he said, teasing Marie as he gazed at her with endearing eyes.
Marie said in good fun: “Do you want to change your mind?”
It is certainly too late to change his mind. The couple is getting ready to celebrate their 77th wedding anniversary in a couple weeks.
Ray, 98, and Marie, 96, will celebrate this Valentine’s Day as sweethearts who have shared a full life of work, family, hobbies and a devotion to dancing.
Ray and Marie danced into each other’s hearts more than seven decades ago when their eyes met on the dance floor of an Elk River tavern.
“We never had any money and so I was never interested in any girls because I couldn’t go see them and I could not take them out,” Ray said. “I never had any girlfriend until her.”
Marie was only 17 years old as an 11th grader at Minneapolis North High School. Her family had moved back to Minneapolis and she attended many schools on the North Side during the Depression days. She graduated from North in 1937.
“We were there for four years and the folks lost everything and they traded the house, a stucco bungalow, and moved to the farm in Zimmerman,” Marie said.
Her father thought he could at least feed his growing family.
Ray worked on the family farm and never attended high school.
“We were on the farm and we had 1/2 mile to walk to the bus and the bus was driven by horses for 5 miles, so that was 1-1/2 hours on the bus and back home in the winter and the summer,” Ray said.
As a young man of age 19, he left home during the Depression, when he said many people worked to earn room and board for $5 or $10 a month.
The young couple dated for 1-1/2 years. The married March 4, 1938, at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in north Minneapolis.
Ray moved down to live with his brother and took at job at a foundry, and Marie worked for a doctor in the Syndicate building off Nicollet Avenue.
“I am full-blooded Swede and he is a half and half – Swede and half Norwegian,” Marie said.
After the couple married they had four children, but they still found time to dance. They made weekly dates on Saturday night to go out dancing. They even took Arthur Murray dance lessons at which they learned how to dance the rumba, the samba and the cha cha to all the popular big band music.
Later on these dancing fools even danced in their living room to the Lawrence Welk TV show music.
Later they added square dancing to their long dancing-steps resume.
“We would just watch others and if we saw someone do some dance step, we say, ‘Hey, look at that guy and the step he is doing,’ and we would say, ‘Let’s go,’” Ray said.
So Ray and Marie shared their passion for wearing dancing shoes together and for decades they had fun keeping up with each other’s dance steps on many Twin Cities dance floors.
After retirement the couple spent 25 winters as snowbirds who enjoyed the warm weather in Tucson, Ariz.
“We used to drive down the first of November and fly home for Christmas and then go back,” Ray said.
Marie used her free time to paint incredible oil paintings that today decorate the couple’s townhome walls. The framed art includes landscape scenes. A highly detailed, deep purple iris blossom’s petals look to possess a furry texture as a small water droplet sits on one petal.
“She really did some good work,” Ray said proudly bragging up his wife’s painting talents.
When they lived in St. Louis Park, Marie said she took a painting class.
“He likes to tend to his flowers – he has beautiful flowers in the summertime,” their daughter Diane Lehman said.
Is the key to life longevity having lots of hobbies?
“I think that is it,” Marie said.
“The secret of this thing is that you got to be busy,” Ray said. “I am sure that is what it is.”
Ray’s said he comes from good genes since his mother lived to be 93 years. Marie has far outlived her parents, though, so good genes may just play a part. Her father passed away in his 60s and her mother died at the age of 73.
“When I tell somebody my age, I always say my next birthday is 99,” he said. “That sounds a little better and it has a little sting to it.”
In his retirement Ray chose to keep busy woodworking, gardening, bowling and golfing.
“I have hit two holes-in-one,” Ray said humbly.
For 20 years Ray worked in a shop and built many family furniture pieces like a fold-down leaf dining table and matching side tables with shelves that hold generations of family photographs.
Together the couple designed and constructed a large dollhouse that is fully furnished and decorated. The white two-story won a couple of ribbons at the county fair just a few years back.
Ray and Marie moved to Jordan in 1990 and lived with Gerry and his wife Ann, who built the lower level of their home so their parents could live there for six years. Then they moved into their current townhome, which Gerry constructed.
Three Sandey children sat in on a recent interview with the Jordan Independent, and each shared what it means to have their parents healthy and vibrant at this tender age and to see them live together happily being married for nearly 77 years.
“My mother is a terrific role model – I can’t imagine. I have just started to appreciate her more now,” Lehman said.
Marie looked at her daughter with loving eyes and replied how that was nice to hear.
“It is just great being able to visit them and be with them and having them better than I am because I had a stroke a while back,” their son Jim said.
Ray commented on his son’s strong appearance and recovery after the stroke even though his son’s voice never fully came back and it can be a challenge to hear him well. But father and son have found other ways to communicate.
“Everything has worked out so beautifully because I lost my wife in 2004 and I have just been able to stop over four or five times a day,” Gerry said.
He gladly serves as a chauffeur for his parents and can become a caregiver if needed, since he also makes a home in Jordan.
Marie quietly stated she does not know what they would do without Gerry being so close by in town. Ray explained how he just gave up his car last week, but he had not driven for a while so it was OK.
Strong family ties have served the Sandeys well during the last seven decades of married life. When the couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, they shared the milestone with more than 250 family and friends. On their 75th anniversary they visited for a whole month with Jim in West Palm Beach, Fla.
The couple made a home in south Minneapolis for 13 years and then bought a house in St. Louis Park, where they raised four children and made a home for 36 years. Then they moved to Golden Valley, before moving to Jordan to live with Gerry for five years near the Ridges at Sand Creek golf course.
Today the Sandeys have enjoyed living for five years in a large one-story Jordan townhome their son Gerry built.
Ray retired 24 years ago, when he worked as a troubleshooter and machinist. For 28 years, he worked as a supervisor at a aluminum and brass foundry alongside his brother.
Besides working as a mother of four children, Marie worked as an estimator and for an insurance company for years.
The last job she retired from was at a circuit plant.
“Back at the beginning of computers, when they had big cards that were put in a room where there would be one computer that’s as big as the room,” Marie said.
When asked what has been the best part of life with Ray being married for nearly 77 years, Marie quickly responded by saying: “Our four good kids.”
What was the most difficult thing you had to endure as a couple?
Marie and Ray agreed it was hard when Ray got laid off his job and needed to switch gears when he was 50 years old.
When asked what has been the best thing about being married to Marie, Ray said: “She was such a good dancer and so we had a lot of years that we did a lot of dancing after we got married.”
In three weeks the Sandeys will celebrate their milestone 77th wedding anniversary with grace and style and maybe even a few dance steps.