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Willie B. and Mary Ricketts celebrate 75 years

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By Kristin Sherrard

Carrollton residents Willie B. and Mary Ricketts reached a major milestone in their journey through life together, celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary July 4. Their achievement was recognized in letters from President Barack Obama and Gov. Steve Beshear.

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The couple has three children, 12 grandchildren, six step grandchildren, 17 great-grand and step great-grandchildren, two great-great-grandchildren and 8 step-great-great-grandchildren.

Willie B., 94. and Mary, 91, first met on a Saturday night while visiting mutual friend Paul Jones and his wife, who lived in a log cabin in Drennon Springs, Ky. At the time, Mary was also living in Drennon Springs, and Willie B. was living in Lacie, Ky., which are both located in Henry County. They also attended the same church, Drennon Springs Christian Church.

“He told my son he thought she was the best looking woman in the world,” oldest daughter Olivene Ogburn said.

“I thought he was very nice looking, clean,” Mary said of her first impression of Willie B.

Olivine said her parents used to go to square dances together as a couple.

“My mother’s kind of strict, you know. She wouldn’t let me go to very many,” Mary said.

The couple dated for 11 months before getting married at the home of their minister in New Castle, Ky., on July 4, 1935.

However, the union almost did not happen. While Willie B. was 19 years old at the time, Mary was only 16 years old.

“The county court clerk wasn’t going to give me my license, said I was too young,” Mary said. “Well, my parents had to sign, and I told him … my mother wasn’t there and my daddy was dead. My oldest brother happened to be in town, and he signed for me.”

Despite the many years gone by, Mary still remembers the details of their special day. 

“It rained like you’ve never saw it,” she said. “… I had a blue crepe dress with a flat collar, white shoes and a blue hat. He had a brown suit.”

Mary also said the couple ate country ham, fried chicken, vegetables from the garden, homemade ice cream and white coconut cake on their wedding day.

The happy couple temporarily lived with Willie B.’s parents before moving in to the two-room log cabin in Drennon Springs where their relationship first began.

“We lived in the same house we met in. They moved out, and years later, we moved in,” Mary said.

“I think it was the best one of them. It was nice,” Willie B. said.

Their first child, Olivene, was born on Feb. 13, 1937. The family lived in the cabin for five years. They moved to a farm in Drennon Springs, and twins Linda and Lyndon were born on June 26, 1942. In 1944, they moved to an 88-acre farm in Lacie and lived there for 16 years.

Willie B. and Mary raised tobacco, corn, hay and a garden on the farm. They also had chickens, pigs and milk cows.

“We lived on a farm. We worked pretty hard, so there wasn’t much fun to be had,” Mary recalled.

However, the family did enjoy going to county fairs and visiting family who lived close by.

“After we got a dependable car, we went to church every Sunday and to my grandmother’s house for dinner, my mother’s mother,” Olivine said.

Linda said her mother also sewed as a hobby. “She made curtains and all of our clothes and coats.”

Olivine said in later years, her parents took small vacations to Canada, West Point, New York, Texas, Louisiana and Florida. Willie B. also traveled to the Air Force Academy in Colorado to visit a grandson.

The Ricketts moved to Valley Station in Louisville, Ky. in 1956, but rented the farm out. The family still owns the farm, and Lyndon currently lives there. Willie B. worked for Ashland Oil in the Louisville Refinery Co. He started as a night watchman and then worked in a lab testing gasoline. He worked there for 23 years.

At 37 years old, Mary began ninth grade at Valley High School with her two youngest children in 1956.

“She loved books, and she always wanted to finish school,” Olivene said.

Mary said her favorite subject was English, but math was hard for her.

“The teacher said … ‘You don’t come to school to make a good grade, you come to school to learn’ and said these kids (had) been in school year after year and (I’d) been gone 23 years,” she said. “… I made passing grades, but I wasn’t a wizard, you know. I made the honor roll a few times, not many.”

Linda said she and her mother did not have any classes together, but they took the same courses. She estimated there were about 2,000 students in the school.

“If I forgot my lunch money, I knew where to find her to get my lunch money,” she said, laughing. “It did not bother me. It was such a big high school, I rarely saw her.”

Mary, Linda and Lyndon graduated in 1960.

“There was about three other (adults who) started, and I was the only one that finished,” Mary said.

After graduating, Mary took nurses aid training and worked at Sts. Mary & Elizabeth Hospital from 1966-1976.

In 1976, Mary was diagnosed with breast cancer. She also survived uterine cancer and a hysterectomy when she was about 83 years old. She broke her hip last year, which is why she is in a wheelchair. Willie B. is diabetic and has lost a kidney.  

“And still surviving,” Olivine said of her parents. 

The couple moved to Port William Lane in Carrollton in 1992 to be closer to Olivine, who lived on Grobmeyer Avenue at the time. Lyndon also lives close by on the family farm in Henry County, however Linda lives in Weatherford, Texas.

“We (were) getting so old, we decided we better find a roost,” Mary said.

“They wanted a small town where there was a hospital and a post office and grocery stores,” Olivine said.

Mary and Willie B. moved to Green Valley Health & Rehabilitation Center on Nov. 12, 2003.

When asked if she could pinpoint the success of her 75-year marriage, Mary said, “I don’t know; it went by so quick.”

However, she did say she advised one woman in the past who was thinking about leaving her husband to go back to him.

”If you make your bed, you lay in it,” she said.

Mary and Willie B. are not the only ones who have maintained successful marriages over the years. Olivine was married for 37 1/2 years before her husband died, and Lyndon has been married for 48 years. Linda was married to her first husband for 42 years before he died, and she has been married to her second husband for the past eight years.

“You know it doesn’t feel like it’s been too long ago. It doesn’t seem like it’s been long,” Mary said of her kids growing up. “… It feels like just yesterday that all of these kids were in school.”

When asked what they would want others to know about their parents, Linda said, “They’re honest as a day is long. … We love them dearly.”

Olivine described them as “loving, caring people.” “That likes to feed you,” Linda added.

“Yeah, they always want you to eat when you come visit them,” Olivine said.

Mary offered the following advice, “Life is short. You better do what you want to do while you’re young.”