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Dancing the years away

Couple celebrates 65th Valentine's Day by sharing their love story

HARTINGTON — If Duke and Jan Walz had a soundtrack to their love story it would include Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade” and Bing Crosby’s “I’ll Be Seeing You.” And the vinyl record album cover would show the couple dancing cheek to cheek.

“Back in my era, that was the thing to do - go to dances and that’s where we met,” Duke said. “There were dances around in the area just about every night.”

When Jan waltzed in and Duke laid eyes on her, he was immediately smitten and vowed to put his best foot forward.

“In my mind, I thought, I’ve got to get more acquainted with her,” he said.

As far as first impressions go, Jan was also taken with Navy veteran Duke whom she described as a good dancer and even better conversationalist.

“He was a really nice guy and easy to jabber with,” she said.

After a few meetups at dances, Jan “finally agreed” to a date, Duke said with a smile.

Much of their year-long courtship involved dancing - driving to dance halls in Hartington, Fordyce, Wynot, Crofton and even to Omaha.

Jan turned out to be quite the catch - literally - when you consider Duke’s marriage proposal.

On the night of the proposal, the duo went out for a drive, stopping along a quiet country road.

“I decided this is the place to do it,” Duke said. “So I looked over and went through ‘I would like to marry you. I would like to give you this ring.’ And she took off running. I had to catch her and then I gave her the ring.”

They were wed on Sept. 13, 1956 at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Constance with five bridesmaids which was quite large and unusual for the time.

They enjoyed a reception at the Constance school and then - fittingly - hosted a public wedding dance at the Skylon Ballroom featuring one of the Walzes favorite live bands led by Eddie Skeets.

“They were a large band that traveled through Nebraska. He played around here at dances and we liked his music,” Duke said.

The couple had planned a honeymoon trip to Colorado but when they set out to leave decided on Okoboji instead.

After the honeymoon, Jan moved from Constance as the couple settled in Hartington.

Duke worked as an electrician and then moved on to work for Nebraska Public Power. Jan taught at rural public schools including Hartington.

“It was an easy job until I got up until sixth or seventh grade and then it became difficult,” Jan said.

They settled into life as a married couple and added children along the way: one daughter, Rolanda Korton of Lincoln; and two sons, Steve of Omaha and Scott of York.

When Jan retired from teaching, she volunteered at Holy Trinity.

As the years passed, they added nine grandchildren.

Even into their golden years, the Walzes never quit dancing.

“We used to like to go to wedding dances and they would have the dance where you keep dancing until the oldest dancer (remains). We won that a few times. We had that rigged,” Duke said.

The couple - Duke, 96, and Jan, 89 - now reside together in a double-occupancy room at Arbor Care nursing home. They’ve been weathering the COVID-19 pandemic with the ever-changing facility guidelines. Adjusting to changes to their home and health over the past year, they feel grateful to have each other.

“We’re lucky that way,” Duke said. “It’s been a very good life.”

The Walzes have spent 65 years happily married.

Duke’s best advice for a happy marriage? Be an agreeable husband.

“I always just listened. I never did argue back with her. Most of the time, if she wanted something, I always said ‘Go ahead.’ Even if I had some thinking, well, maybe not, it worked anyhow,” he said.

Over the years, the Walzes didn’t make a big deal of anniversaries or Valentine’s Day. Jan said she wouldn’t describe Duke as particularly romantic but definitely lovable.

And every once in a while, they still get their dancing shoes on.

“We get up and put on a Glenn Miller and dance in our room and close the door,” Duke said. “Not very long but we do dance.”