Lawrence couple celebrates 75 years of luck

Lawrence residents Erwin and Wilma Morgan recently celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary. Erwin, 95, and Wilma, 93, are pictured with a photograph from their wedding day in 1942 in Lansing, Kan.

Erwin Morgan says he’s had 75-year run of good luck.

Three-quarters of a century ago, Erwin married his wife, Wilma, in Lansing. The couple celebrated their 75th anniversary on June 19.

As 95-year-old Erwin looks back, his luck started two years earlier when he and his future bride went on their first date to the Hollywood Theater in Leavenworth.

“What attracted me was her looks and her personality,” Erwin said. “She’s just a wonderful person. She would attract anybody. I consider myself a very lucky man.”

Wilma said the attraction was mutual, although as a sophomore at Lansing High School she was two years younger than the senior new to the school. Erwin moved with his family from Lawrence to Lansing during his senior year when his father got a job at what is now known as the Lansing Correctional Facility. Coincidentally, Wilma’s father also worked at the prison.

She doesn’t remember the first date, but says it quickly grew into a romance.

“I was two years behind him,” she said. “We were married right after I graduated from high school.”

World events would soon separate the couple. Erwin said he knew when he got married seven months after America’s entry into World War II he would soon be in military service in the Army Air Forces, but the couple did have three months together when he worked in a downtown Kansas City, Mo., defense plant.

In September 1942, Erwin was called to military service — training at Biloxi, Miss. He would eventually be posted in the South Pacific as a pilot flying troops from one island to another. He doesn’t like to talk about the war, or his three-year separation from his wife.

“It wasn’t easy,” he said. “I couldn’t write very much. She sent me cookies and all kinds of stuff when I was in the service. I got more stuff than anybody else around there.”

He was the envy of his fellow soldiers, Erwin said with a chuckle.

She baked cookies or other goodies for Erwin nearly every day, Wilma said. It helped her stay connected with her husband halfway across the globe.

The couple didn’t have to wait long to get reunited when the war ended.

“I came home in October 1945,” he said. “I’d been in long enough they gave me extensive leave and then discharged me. Dec. 16, 1945. That was my discharge date.”

Like millions of other young men, Erwin joined the postwar workforce. He had no interest in continuing as a pilot.

“Oh no,” he said. “When I got out of the service, that was good enough for me.”

Erwin said he was sure Wilma made a special meal for his return.

“She did something special,” he said. “You can bet on that. She took care of me really good.”

The couple lived in the homes of parents for a time, before buying a small house in Kansas City, Kan. They lived there before moving in 1949 to Tonganoxie. Then in 1952, they moved to farm 4 miles north of Lawrence. For Erwin, it was a return to his roots.

Erwin’s great-grandfather Jonathan Morgan arrived in Lawrence in 1854 as one of the New England settlers determined to make Kansas a free state. His grandfather, also named Jonathan Morgan, was born in 1856 on a farmstead just south of Mount Oread. His 1938 obituary says he remembered Quantrill’s 1863 sacking of Lawrence and other events of Civil War strife.

“I heard all the stories,” Erwin said. “They didn’t brag about it. They were very modest.”

His grandfather would later own the farm with his sons, which Erwin and Wilma would call home with their two children, Larry, now 70, and Sandra, 60.

Erwin said he farmed the land, growing mostly corn and wheat and raising cattle, and worked for Grant Township maintaining roads. He retired at age 70 in 1992.

She worked off and on through the years, Wilma said. But her focus was on managing the home and such tasks as gardening, sewing, cooking and “the regular things you should do,” she said.

Those were everyday tasks of love that Erwin appreciates from his wife and best friend.

“She ran the house,” Erwin said. “She’s just a wonderful girl. I’m lucky.”