By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — As far as Mary and Ray Schulz are concerned, Christmas is the tie that binds.
Mary and Ray celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary October 23. They were married in 1946.
“People ask us how we made it 71 years. I always say, we never had anything in common. But the one things we did have in common was our Christmas and the family together. That we agreed on. We had to have a good Christmas,” Ray said.
“That was number one,” Mary agreed.
Mary, age 89, and Ray, age 90, are residents at the Colfax Health and Rehabilitation Center.
Both of them grew up in Milwaukee — and that’s where they lived until 30 years ago.
Shortly after Ray retired from working for the Milwaukee school district, “we laid the yardstick on the state map from our cottage in Clam Lake to LaCrosse. We were still in Milwaukee. We wanted to be in the middle for the kids to come from LaCrosse and to go to the cabin. It came out Chippewa Falls (was in the middle),” Ray said.
“We didn’t know a soul when we moved. We had an eighteen-wheeler and the high school football team and Jim’s buddies (their son) loaded that big truck and drove it up here,” Ray said.
“That’s how we got to Chippewa Falls. It came out to one hundred miles each way,” he said.
“It cut our time. It was eight hours from Milwaukee (to the cabin), and now it was two hours,” Mary said.
Mary and Ray had four children, and now they have nine grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
Their son, John, lives in Colfax, and his sons both graduated from Colfax High School.
Mary was an only child, and Ray comes from a family of six boys.
“I remember one thing that I got that I really, really loved. It was a desk. I was interested in paper and pencils and crayons. I wanted Santa Claus to bring me a desk, and he did. I got a bike too, but I didn’t care about that. I liked the desk better,” Mary said.
“As far as Christmas goes, as little kids, we had fun during the Depression. We had to pick up coal along the tracks that fell off the coal cars, and we’d get wood from dilapidated buildings for the fire. It was all fun for us. But we were never without a Christmas tree. My mother did a fabulous thing. We had a cousin living with us too. He lived with us for quite a few years. Christmas was one of our biggest fun things,” Ray said.
“We always had to do the housework and do the dishes. Us six boys would be around the sink, and we’d sing Christmas carols, and we could harmonize. We had a regular barbershop quartet. My cousin could play the harmonica, and he taught me to play the harmonica. We could play all the tunes,” he said.
“Roger took off for Hollywood to be an actor, and he had a good start, until the war (World War II). He went into the service, and a terrible thing happened to him with a tank mine. Disfigured his whole face. But he still worked for the government. He graduated from North Division High School in Milwaukee. He was in all the drama classes. As soon as he graduated, it wasn’t a week later, he was California. That’s where his mother lived, and his brother and sister,” Ray said.
“We always had a beautiful Christmas. My dad worked for Twentieth Century Fox Films for 50 years. He was the booker and distributor for all of the films for the whole state of Wisconsin,” Ray said.
“When school started, all of the teachers would say, ‘what does your daddy do?’ Well, Ray’s younger brother said, ‘my daddy’s a bookie!’ He meant ‘booker.’ But he said bookie,” Mary recalled.
“We always had a Christmas tree. And we always went to church during Christmas. I also started, just before we moved up here, I started with the Barbershoppers in Milwaukee. I love to sing. Mary never cared for that kind of singing or music. Her adopted mother was not so good to Mary when she tried to whistle or sing,” Ray said.
“If I’d whistle, she’d say, ‘girls don’t whistle. If you whistle, the angels in Heaven will cry.’ I didn’t want that to happen, so I didn’t whistle. If I laughed, I (was told I) laughed like a horse. So I didn’t laugh,” Mary said.
“I can remember when I was just starting out the first few years, I don’t know how Mary did it. I wasn’t making enough wages. She managed to put away a couple of hundred dollars to save up for Christmas gifts for those kids,” Ray said.
“When you have a love for something, you manage, somehow, to get it done,” Mary said.
“She belonged to a Christmas Club at the bank,” Ray said.
“You put a little money away each week. That helped,” Mary said.
“Our kids. That’s their big thing is Christmas. They are still going to cut trees up north,” Ray said.
“They still cut their own trees,” Mary said.
Their son, Jim, bought the cabin in Clam Lake from them, and now Jim’s children have the cabin.
“As far as our kids growing up, Susan not too long ago said her Christmases were magical. We never let them see a thing. Santa came. We took them to my parents’ house in the morning. Then we’d go buy the tree and all the gifts. And I’d wrap, and he’d decorate. We’d go pick them up after dark, and they saw it for the first time. Everything. That was on Christmas Eve. They’d call up, and I’d have to say, ‘yes, Santa is here. He’s just leaving now. And that would mean daddy was on his way to get them,” Mary said.
“They’d probably call 15 times. Is he on his way? Is he on his way?” Mary recalled with a smile.
“Since our married days, we always cut our tree up at our cabin. And also my brother had a resort when he came out of the service. He didn’t go on to med school. He wanted to be outdoors. He built up a nice resort on the Chippewa Flowage. We always got our trees from up there. We grew them at our cabin, too. We always had a big, beautiful Christmas tree,” Ray said.
“I can’t say we ever had a bad Christmas. It could have been a little bush. But we were a close-knit family, and that was the fun part for us. Mary didn’t have any brothers or sisters,” Ray said.
“I always wanted a pet so bad, but we always lived in rented houses, and the landlord wouldn’t allow animals. I never even had a pet until I got married,” Mary said.
Mary made all of the children’s clothes, Ray noted.
“Kathy asked, ‘would you make a wedding dress for me momma?’ I said, ‘Certainly.’ I had just finished putting that row of buttonholes in the back, and I had the train laying out on the living room floor. I pushed the furniture aside, and I had the train laying out. And just about that time, our youngest son came home from school and let the dog in. With muddy paws. All over the underside of the train. We let it dry and brushed off what we could. Kathy took it really well. ‘I’ll always have memories of Sheppy with the paw prints on my dress,’” Mary said.
Marc’s Big Boy
“My folks didn’t have a car until they were in their 50s,” Ray said.
“Your mother learned how to drive up north,” Mary said.
“Up in Hayward,” Ray said.
“And she’d say, ‘Junior, take me for a ride. But we have to wait until it’s dark’ She didn’t want to be seen in his little old jalopy,” Mary said.
“I had a ‘30 chevy. That was my first car. When we got married, our first car was a Model A Ford. We didn’t buy it as an antique of course. But my folks couldn’t drive for years,” Ray said.
“Ben Marcus — Marc’s Big Boy (restaurants) — when he got off the boat, so to speak, he wanted to be in the theater business, mostly in the concessions and cartoons. A lot of the other people turned him down for help,” Ray said.
“My dad took him under his wing, and he gave my dad a brand new car at my dad’s retirement. There were over 300 people at my dad’s retirement. And most of them were from Hollywood and a big shot from Disneyland. He was a big shot with Twentieth Century Fox. Had a cigar out to here. Over 300 people at the Pfister Hotel. My dad stayed with Ben Marcus as he was learning the business. Ben Marcus gave him a brand new automobile,” Ray said.
According to an online history about The Marcus Corporation, Ben Marcus thought a parking garage would have been a better use for the land where the Pfister Hotel was located in Milwaukee, but he did not want to see the hotel torn down either, so he purchased the hotel and renovated it.
“Your mother learned to drive first, and then your dad learned. They’d be at our house, and they’d run for the door to see who could get there first to drive the car,” Mary said.
“Everybody calls her Mern and they call me Goggles. All my life I’ve been Goggles. I’ve had glasses since I was four years old,” Ray said.
Mary and Ray have been together since they were in junior high school.
“I think Mary was just turning 14 when I fell in love with her,” Ray said.
When asked if it was love at first sight, Ray replied, “It was for me. There’s never been anybody else. I didn’t have time for anybody else.”
Mary received her nickname early on in their relationship.
“Mary was babysitting on a Saturday, and I knew where she was babysitting, and I said, ‘when you take the boy for a walk, I’ll come with my bike and we can talk.’ So I pulled up, and she’s got the little guy in (the stroller), and he couldn’t say Mary. ‘Merny,’ he says, ‘Merny we have to go home now.’ That’s what I’ve called her ever since. Our kids call her Mern. If they walked in here right now, they wouldn’t say ‘Mom.’ They’d say, ‘Mern.’ And I was always Goggles or Gogs,” Ray said.
“I retired after almost 40 years (with the school district). I injured my hand and didn’t have use of it for six or seven years. When we moved to Chippewa Falls, we were going through Chippewa Falls one day. And Mary said, ‘there’s a dime store. And there’s another one. And another one.’ There were three dime stores. And I said, ‘Are you kidding? There’s a YMCA. Therapy for my hand!’ Chippewa Falls. We loved it there up until nine months ago, and we decided it was time to come to a nursing home. Mary had a stroke. We were getting Meals on Wheels. The last two years were beautiful years. Quality time. I was taking care of Mary. I remodeled the bathroom for her,” Ray said.
“He always went deer hunting. But we never missed the Santa Claus parade,” Mary said.
“That was one of our favorite things to take the kids to the Christmas parade in Milwaukee. It was fabulous,” Ray said.
“That was the rule. He could go hunting. But he could only hunt so long. Then he had to come home so we could go to the Christmas parade,” Mary said.
“We never missed that parade,” Ray said.
“Those are the good things,” he said.
“There isn’t a day that we don’t sit out there (in the dining room at Colfax Health and Rehab) and reminisce,” Ray said.
“We’re so grateful that we’re still together. I think we still have most of our faculties,” he said.
“The best part is that our kids have kept up the Christmas tradition. I love that. It means that what we did meant something to them,” Mary said.
“We were always together on Christmas with our family. This will be the first year we won’t be able to make it,” Mary said.
“This will be the first year,” Ray said.
“Jim passed away. That was a terrible thing in our lives. We haven’t had a tree since then. It wasn’t the same without him,” Mary said.
“We’re going to have a tree this year in our rooms. I have an apartment,” she said.
Mary and Ray’s son Jim died suddenly. He was in his early 60s and had just retired. He rode a bicycle for five miles every day to stay in shape, Ray said.
Jim went to work for the Trane Company in LaCrosse, and he worked there 38 years. He was the last one who could retire with a full pension at 60 years of age, Ray said.
Ray and Mary also lost their son Tom.
Tom was a police officer in Milwaukee.
“One of the first calls that day, he went to answer the call, and he was on the porch of this house and somebody shot him and killed him,” Mary said.
“He was one of the youngest cops they had,” Ray said.
“The funeral lasted for days. They just kept coming from all over the state,” Mary said.
Tom had married a girl whose family had been police officers for several generations.Before Ray and Mary moved out of their house in Chippewa Falls, they had a plan for how to deal with their Christmas decorations.
“I had the boys bring in all the Christmas boxes. Then each family could pick out what they wanted. What they remembered. A lot of it went then. It was a very good thing. They got what they wanted. And we were happy to do it. So the load is less now. They each got what they remembered, but they even fought over some of it. One of them would say, ‘I grew up with that!’” Mary said with a laugh.
“Mary was always into crafts. We went around to the craft shows. She made the little Christmas snowmen. We started here a couple of days ago (at CHRC), but we’re running out of time,” Ray said.
“Not everybody is able to work it. I only have the use of one hand,” Mary said.
“Ray has been a lot of help for me. We’ve been making poinsettias in the craft class. He does the gluing,” she said.
“We’re not together now, not in the same room. And we don’t want to be. I watch football all day long, and hunting and fishing. And it wouldn’t be fair to Mary. We wanted two places. The list is a mile long to get in here,” Ray said.
“We don’t know what to expect for Christmas. We didn’t know what to expect for Thanksgiving either. We had a wonderful meal. Turkey. The works. We’ll find that out. They say Christmas is wonderful around here too,” he said.
“We’ll make some kind of Christmas out of it. We always did. Just singing the Christmas carols. That’s enough for me,” Ray said.
And what is Ray’s favorite Christmas song?
“White Christmas. I love all of the church hymns for Christmas too,” he said.