Forever Valentines: Man knows enduring love is best gift of all
Click here to view an audio slideshow of Russ and Reva Porter.
FOOTVILLE Every morning as first light approaches, 85-year-old Russ Porter pulls into St. Elizabeth Manor's parking lot in Footville. He slowly slips out of his car and carefully steps toward the door of the assisted living home with one thing on his mind: "How is my beloved Reva?"
Inside, he waits patiently by the fireplace until someone brings his wife to where he is sitting. Then, he grasps Reva's hand and says, "Good morning." For the next 12 hours, he feeds Reva, comforts her and does not wander far from her side. After almost 64 years of marriage, Russ would have it no other way.
It doesn't matter to him that 83-year-old Reva has lost interest in eating. Or that she has a hard time getting around without a wheelchair. Or that Alzheimer's disease has robbed her of her vibrant personality.
Reva is still the love of his life, now and forever.
Decades ago, he noticed her waiting for a bus. He admired Reva's long blond hair and green eyes. So he mustered enough courage to enter the former Bach's Drug Store in Beloit, where Reva worked as a soda jerk.
"Want to go to a movie?" he asked her.
She turned him down. She said she had to work.
The next week, Russ asked again. She turned him down again, same excuse.
"I don't know how long I waited," Russ says.
Eventually, the young woman with a knack for mixing cherry-chocolate malted milks said "yes."
They took in a movie, "Lassie Come Home." Then, they walked in Horace White Park and sat on a bench.
Russ boldly took her hand and held on. Since then, he has never lost a chance to hold hands with his sweetheart.
They courted a few years and married on Memorial Day 1948. Russ wore a blue suit, and Reva slipped into a satiny gown with a long flowing train and veil.
"She was awfully good looking," he says, remembering their wedding day. "She still is awfully good looking."
Later, they drove to New York City for a honeymoon. Then they began their life together.
"We have three kids—so far," Russ says.
Douglas lives in Beloit, and Dennis lives in Delafield. Daughter Debra Oster makes her home in Beloit Township, and Russ lives with her.
"He is as close to a saint as I know," Debra says of her father. "As a little girl, I was so proud when we sat in church because he sat with his arm around Mom. They always have been so close. It was crushing for him when she started with Alzheimer's. He has always treated her like a princess."
"It is my duty to come and be with her," Russ explains. "We have always trusted in each other."
He used to enjoy buying Reva new clothes for holidays. But Russ knows the best gift a husband can give his wife is enduring love.
"Rain, snow or cold weather, it doesn't matter," says Damon Loyd, St. Elizabeth's human resource manager. "Russ is always here. I've never seen anyone so devoted."
As Russ prepared to leave one night, he bent to kiss Reva and hug her one more time.
"After I saw it happen, I brought my wife a dozen roses," says Mike Allen, a certified nurse's aide. "It made me feel soft inside."
Several weeks ago, emergency medical technicians rushed Reva to the hospital because they thought she was having a stroke.
"I went in the ambulance," Russ says.
He stops talking and stares into the distance before being able to say out loud what he fears most:
"I thought for sure that I lost her."
It wasn't a stroke, and Reva returned to St. Elizabeth's.
Russ squeezes Reva's hand a little tighter now. Often, you can see them napping in front of St. Elizabeth's fireplace. Russ rests his head on Reva's shoulder. With eyes closed, they soak in the balm of each other's touch.
Always, just like on that first date so many decades ago, their fingers interlace. They lock hands as naturally as they breathe. Never wishing to let go, they hold on tightly, ever so tightly.
Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for the Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at (608) 755-8264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.