By Lisa Britton

For the Baker City Herald

W

ayne Carpenter doesn’t even pause when asked how he met his wife, Dru.

“She got stood up at a dance and I picked her up,” he said. “She was 15. I was 18.”

They celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary on June 26.

Both graduated from Baker High School: Wayne in 1945, and Dru in 1948.

He joined the U.S. Navy after high school.

“I only went to one dance while you were gone,” Dru, 88, said, looking across the table at Wayne, 91.

Then she pauses, thinking about the boy who took her to that dance.

“Tommy Gorman,” Wayne instantly responds.

But that was the only dance with someone other than the one who would become her husband.

“He came home on leave,” she said of Wayne. “It happened to be my prom night, and I had a new dress.”

They wrote letters while he was away.

“Every day,” Wayne said.

“We have a box in the garage — the boys will have fun with that,” Dru said.

In 1946, Dru’s parents built the Inland Cafe on 10th Street.

“That’s when I had to work in the restaurant. Which wasn’t my favorite,” Dru said.

He proposed a few years later.

“We were at a movie at the Eltrym Theater,” Dru remembers.

They wanted to get married after she graduated, but decided to wait for a year and save money.

“His parents thought we were too young,” Dru said with a smile.

She worked as a secretary at OHP McCord and Son. He worked at Hays Motor Company.

They got married on June 26, 1949. Wedding desserts, recorded on a receipt tucked inside an album, cost $19 at Gwilliam Bros. Bakery.

Their first big purchase took them on a honeymoon to Payette Lake near McCall.

“We spent all our savings on that Jeep. It was gray and red,” Dru said.

That was about the same time that Baker City celebrated its 75th anniversary, and Dru was a princess for the Powder River Cavalade.

“We had to come home from our honeymoon a few days early,” Dru said.

After marriage, Wayne continued as a volunteer firefighter in addition to his other jobs. He held that commitment until 1993 — the longest tenure of any member of the volunteer firefighters.

Wayne grew up across the street from the Baker City Fire Department.

“Every time that alarm went off, he ran right over,” Dru said.

As a volunteer, he didn’t have regular shifts — he was on call at all times.

“When the horn blew, I went to the fire,” Wayne said.

“And he went, no matter what was happening,” Dru said. “When I would complain — ‘maybe you don’t have to go’ — he said ‘What if it’s our house someday?’ ”

She remembers one fire in particular. They’d just left a school program at Baker High School when the alarm sounded with a code for the location: Ellingson Lumber Company. Dru dropped him off at the scene, then went home to get his gear.

They all saw the flames.

“Jeff was 4 or 5 years old — he did not want daddy to go into that fire,” Dru said of their youngest son.

They had four sons: Kerry, born in November 1950; Brad arrived in May 1953; Randy was born in December 1956; and Jeff arrived six years later, in December 1962.

They’ve had many ventures both in careers — they owned the A&W for 15 years) — and hobbies.

“In 1957, Dru talked me into being a square dancer,” Wayne said.

Then he became a caller, which took the couple to square dances around the Northwest.

“We made some great friends,” Dru said.

Music has always been important to Dru. After retiring in 1990 from a 23-year career with Farmers Home Administration she joined the board for Baker Community Concerts.

“It wasn’t long before I became president,” she said.

She held that position fo r 15 years, bringing professional musicians to Baker City several times a year. She also arranged for those performers to give lessons in the schools during their visit.

“It was amazing how many kids would bring their parents after hearing them during the day,” Dru said.

With their four boys, both Wayne and Dru became involved with Little League. He coached, and she ran four concession stands.

“It did keep me busy,” she said. “I had to stock them, and call to get mothers to work.”

Looking back over 7 decades

A lot of life happens in 70 years.

Tragedy struck in November 2002 when their son Randy, a firefighter in Coos Bay, died when a roof collapsed on him while fighting a fire.

To honor him, Wayne and Dru established the Randy Carpenter Memorial Foundation to provide grants for fire safety training — a mission that was dear to Randy’s heart.

Since its inception, the Foundation has awarded $266,000 for trainings in the Northwest. They raise money through golf and poker tournaments (a Texas hold’em tournament is planned for July 13 in Baker City).

“Randy didn’t want to be the center of attention,” Dru said. “But I think he’d be proud of us.”

The growth of a family

Their family grew, as families tend to do. They have 12 grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren, and six great-great-grandchildren. On Thanksgiving of even-numbered years they invite family and friends for a reunion.

“The highest we’ve had is 93,” Wayne said.

As they recall their life together — 74 years, from that first dance — the Carpenters easily add to each other’s memories.

Do they have a secret for a long marriage?

“I learned how to play ‘yes dear,’” Wayne said.

Across the table, Dru chuckles and rolls her eyes.

“That’s not true,” she said.

Then Wayne smiles at his bride of 70 years.

“We believe in commitments,” he said.

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