Love Birds for Life

June and Dick Johnston. Photo by Rachel Anne Seymour/Bigheart Times

June and Dick Johnston. Photo by Rachel Anne Seymour/Bigheart Times

Almost 68 years ago, June Bartgis stood in a navy blue dress next to Dick Johnston in his Navy blues at a small Christian church in Ponca City as they exchanged vows. It was a modest ceremony with only their mothers and Dick’s sister as witnesses.

“I just had a navy blue dress,” June said. “I borrowed my sister’s dress to tell you the truth. I didn’t like dresses. Still don’t.”

June was only 17 at the time and had graduated from Grainola High School just three weeks earlier. Dick was 18 and already had a year in the Navy behind him. “We were still just kids when we got married,” June smiled.

While he was at boot camp in San Diego, Dick mailed June her engagement ring. It didn’t come as a surprise to her. The two had always been together. Dick had been around as long as June could remember. That’s just the way it was. There was never any doubt they would get married.

“I just knew him forever,” she said. “It’s always been Dick and June.”

When they were younger, she remembers him as a shy, quiet boy in Grainola’s grade school. “I remember chasing him all over the gym up there. He was bashful,” she said.

June on the other hand was anything but shy or quiet. “She’s always been a good companion,” Dick said. “I’ll tell you one thing, she is pretty sassy sometimes. She doesn’t hesitate to tell you what is on her mind.”

“Who? Janny?” June asked. Hard of hearing, she wasn’t sure who he was talking about and thought he was talking about their daughter, Jan, who takes after her mom.

“Oh, me,” she figured out a second later.

As for Dick, his bashfulness has turned into patience and kindness with age.

“He is one of the most patient guys you’ll ever know,” June said. “He wouldn’t hurt a flea. He’s been a good provider and husband. It never entered your mind to get a divorce.

“I wouldn’t know where to go if I went,” she laughed.

Their lives  are speckled with memories of one another for as long as they can remember. There was the time he wrote her after she broke her arm falling off the monkey bars.

“I broke my arm in the fourth grade, and he wrote me a note and told me he was sorry I broke my arm,” June giggled.

As they got older they would ride horses together, delivering ice for her parent’s Phillips station.

During high school, the big highlight of the weekend was a movie in Shidler’s theater. “If we had enough money left over, we’d get a hotdog,” June said.

But if it rained, the date was off. The roads weren’t like they are now and could become dangerously muddy.

“One night I ruined a new pair of shoes. We got stuck and we had to walk to his house,” June remembered. The ruined brown and white saddle shoes had carried her a mile down the road.

Since they were driving in Dick’s parents’ car, June had to stay overnight at Dick’s – something that you just didn’t do back then.

When it wasn’t raining they were able to make the trip to Shidler.

“They always had the best movies,” June said. Movies like ‘Gone with the Wind,’ one of the first major color films. “‘Gone with the Wind’ was a pretty big deal when it came out,” Dick said.

Long romantic films weren’t Dick’s favorites. Westerns were more his style.

“I’ll tell you what I did,” June said. “I sat through the westerns with him. He sat in the musicals with me.”

When it came time to graduate, it was Dick and June together again, even though she was a class behind him. Dick, being the only one is his graduating class, was the valedictorian and the salutatorian. His other classmates had gone to war, moved or died, so Dick gave the valedictorian speech while June gave the salutatorian speech. In a class of only one, he still made straight As.

“He was really smart in school,” June said.

The following year June graduated in a class of six, again making the salutatorian speech. It was Dick who remembered how big her class was. Even remembered who was in it. “Peggy, Bill, Norma, Willard, Tommy,” he counted.

“And me,” June finished.

Although June isn’t as good with dates and names as Dick, she doesn’t remember him ever not being there. But neither of them can remember the first time they met. “Probably in a crib” June joked. They still live in the house where June grew up with her four siblings and raised her five children. Dick had lived just a few miles away with his eight siblings at the six mile corner, which is six miles from Grainola, six miles from Shidler and six miles from Foraker.

His dad traded at the local Phillips station June’s parents ran.

On June 5, they will celebrate 68 years of marriage.

“You know what, it does not seem that long,” June said. She admits that Dick is the one who remembers dates better, after she mixed up her birthday and their wedding day.

“If I lie to you, it’s not on purpose,” she said with a wink.

“Not one time in my life did I think we were poor. We had plenty as far I was concerned. We’ve always had a good life,” June said. She remembers her parents had one of the first cars in the area.

“I had a new bicycle and new roller skates. I thought I was a rich kid,” she laughed.

She also remembers when electricity came to the area in the late 1930s, taking them into a new era. June remembers one friend’s surprise at what her newly lit home looked like:

“She thought she had a clean house till we got electricity.”

There was only one time in June’s life she will tell you she hated. It was their first year of marriage and the year Dick spent with the Navy. June was working for Phillips.

“It was the worst time of my life,” she said.

It was one of the only times she was at home without Dick. The only other night she can remember him being away is the night he went on an all-night hunting trip with her cousin.

“I guess that’s where he was suppose to have went,” she said with a wink. “I remember getting all those kids together in bed with me.”

The bed was modest, like everything in the Johnstons’ life. It was the same full size bed the couple still sleeps in.

When Dick got back from the Navy in 1946, the couple ran June’s parents’ station for a couple of years while they traveled. In 1948, Dick became a full-time farmer.

“I’ve been a poor farmer ever since,” he laughed.

“We bought a tractor before we bought a car,” June said. They used her parents’ car when they needed one and made due with what they had.

During their years of farming and raising children, they were also caretakers for several family members. It was not an uncommon task during that time, but what is uncommon for a couple is shopping together. Usually one, the female, always did the shopping.

“We always shopped together. None of my friends do that,” June said.

“They go everywhere together. They never went anywhere without the other,” daughter Jan said. “All your purchases were a mutual decision.” Even the kids all went on every outing as one big family.

Shopping was a mutual chore and so was the farm work.

“There was no his-or-her jobs. Whatever needed to be done you did it,” June said. “Of course we were having kids, too, all this time… Every time I got one in school I got some more.”

Their first son, Marvin, was born in 1946. Six years later Dee was born. It was not long after that the twin girls were born. After losing the girls, June had twin boys, Ray and Jay in 1957. The youngest, little Janny, was born in 1963.

“[Dick] helped me. He helped with the kids as much as he could. With those babies, he was a lot better at getting up in the middle of the night than I was,” June said.

After losing twin girls at a young age, the couple then had a set of twin boys. After four boys, June finally had a little girl: Jan. “We were happy when Janny was born. We needed a little girl,” June said.

Jan, now 49, spent her youth helping on the farm just like her brothers. “Dad was always working. Every one of us kids had to work on the farm,” Jan said.

But even with all the hard work, Jan has nothing but positive memories. “I don’t ever remember you guys fighting,” she told her mother.

“We didn’t,” June nodded.

And June was as dedicated to her children as Dick was to her.

“Do you ever remember a time when you got off that bus that I wasn’t here?” June asked Jan. While Dick was the patient one, June was the one always fearing for their children’s safety. “She was always the one nervous,” Dick said.

“I was really really protective of my kids,” June explained. “I always had a fear of losing one of my kids.” But that doesn’t mean the kids were sheltered. They had to work on the farm as well and Dick and June were always direct with them. They didn’t talk in code or keep secrets, June said. Decisions and discussions were held out in the open, even around the children.

While June practiced what she preached, including never going to bed angry, that doesn’t mean life wasn’t difficult at times.

“We went through hard times,” June said. “I remember the Depression. If somebody tells you people were poor you believe it, because they were.” While June was just old enough to remember and recognize what was going on during the Depression, hard times didn’t end afterwards.

They had years when the crops didn’t fare as well, or the cattle didn’t bring in as much money as hoped. Thankfully, when one was down the other was up, Dick recalled.

But June does remember a year in the mid 1960s that the wheat crop was suppose to bring in enough money for a new sewing machine. A hail storm ruined the crop and June would have to wait another few years for a sewing machine.

Then there was the year in the late 1950s, June was in and out of the hospital and ended up spending Christmas there. Dick put up the Christmas tree and shopped for all the kids.

“He had to do the whole Christmas. I was really impressed at how he did that,” June said. “It was really something.”

Dick just remembered cooking a lot of Hamburger Helper. But to June it was something extra special.

“Now I tell you what, I am going to keep him as long as I can, and he better keep me as long he can,” June said. “There is not anything you can’t work out if you don’t work at it.”

Although they rarely got one another gifts that weren’t practical or necessary, that Christmas he bought June a diamond ring. “When we did buy each other things it was always something we needed,” June said.

This is probably why they don’t have or need any special Valentine’s Day plans.

“He’s probably going to get up and eat oatmeal. I’ll eat ginger snaps,” June laughed. “When you are married as long as we are and as old as we are, it’s just another day.”

Their June anniversary celebrations are as modest as their wedding and life has been. Sometimes they will go out to eat, but without the frills and dressing up, June explained. Last year, for their 67th, they were eating at Hernandez’s in Pawhuska when one woman inquired: “What’s your secret?”

June’s answer: “No secrets.”

By Rachel Anne Seymour

3 Responses to “Love Birds for Life”

  1. Shirley Long says:

    What a pleasure to read this real life story of two people I know and love…They are just as down to earth, honest as the day is long..This story depicts everything that I know of them, nothing made up, and I have never known two more loving and devoted couple as they are..such wonderful role models…Thands for publishing their story…I loved catching up with them….

  2. Morgan Barnes says:

    This couple is truly a blessing to all those around them! They are one of my favorite reasons for going back home!

  3. Juanita Ross says:

    That was a verry interesting artical. I enjoyed reading it & we enjoy visiting with Dick & June. We run into them ocasionally at Wal-Mart or somewhere eating. Hope they have many more Happy Years. Juanita & Bob Ross