Russell and Dorothy Smith pledged their lives to each other in marriage over 75 years ago and together were a strong team, farming, raising their four kids, participating in the fabric of community life and enjoying retirement in Virden.
In their story you will be reminded of the values of family life in the early 20th century, and you will come across history of families in the area.
Back in 1944, Russell (Huck) Smith and Dorothy Weber met at a dance in the Open-Air Dance Hall at the Virden Legion. Yes, dances outdoors.
Dorothy was born and raised near Two Creeks, south of Miniota. She attended Ross School and left home at 15 take a book keeping course at Success Business School in Winnipeg. As a young woman Dorothy returned to Virden and worked for a lawyer. A.B. Rutherford was from the town of Kenton, and had a practice in Virden.
While she worked in Virden, Russell and Dorothy danced every week, and fell in love.
“We danced and danced and decided to get married, Nov. 10, 1945. This was the date of Russell’s parents wedding, in 1903,” says Dorothy.
They planned to be married at the home of Dorothy’s parents, at Lenore. However, on Nov. 7, it stormed and roads were impassible.
She tells, “The guests [and the minister] Rev. J. S. Caldwell couldn’t come, so we, along with my brother Chris and Russell’s sister Vi, headed to Virden with horses and a covered van, and got married in the manse. Rev. Wilkinson officiated.
The couple honeymooned in Winnipeg four days, then came to the Smith farm at Lenore, on Erroll Road where Russell lived from childhood through his working years.
“We worked hard, milked cows, fed pigs, grew a big garden, raised chickens (killed and processed them all by hand), ducks geese and turkeys. I worked on the farm as well as in the house,” says Dorothy.
Erroll School, a brick structure, was on Smith’s land, just a stone’s throw from their home. Many teachers who taught there boarded at the Smith home. Dorothy recalls the fee was $35 per month. She says, “We still keep in contact with one of those teachers.”
What about hobbies? Russell shakes his head. “No time.” He was a farmer through and through. “Farming is all I’ve ever done.” He recalls loading up pigs for market, taking them by wagon to Lenore, for rail transport. Milking cows, shipping cream and raising pigs on the nutritious milk and other farm produce. That was farm life.
“We used to neighbour back and forth with our neighbours. We would pack up the kids on a winter night and go to the neighbours, to the Woods’ and play cards. The kids would sleep. There was no drinking, just playing cards.”
The couple was blessed with four children: Maxine (Marcel) Chacun; Dianne (Terry) Hayward; Shirley (Barry) Smith; Rick (Brenda Hall), 12 grandchildren and spouses, plus 15 great-grandchildren.
While raising a family the Smiths milked cows and taking trips was out of the question. However, daughter Maxine recounts the rich community life they enjoyed. “We went to the Brandon summer and winter fair every year and came to Virden fair and to everything in the community, to every auction sale, bonspiel and to skating. They had us kids in 4-H and choir at church. A very busy life.”
Their needs were taken care of. She recalls that one year there was a crop failure, but “when Dad would go for groceries, he’d come back with a big chocolate bar for each of us.” That included the boarding teacher as well.
Russell was also responsible for ensuring the school was warmed each winter day. “When I was little,” said Maxine, “we lived a mile and a quarter from the school, and we didn’t have hydro. Dad and I would start off walking to school and then he would walk[ahead] to the school to put the fire on.”
He did it for $1 per day, a lot more than his sister had been paid for that job.
Russell recalls his own early days on that same farm as one of 10 children; his sister also warmed up the school. “She fired the school for four and a half cents a morning. She thought someone else was going to put in for five, so she put in four and a half.”
The school house was eventually closed and then demolished. In 1990 Huck and Dorothy moved to a bungalow at that location and their son lived in the original wood-frame home. Their three girls were the fifth generation on that farm.
In 2002, the senior Smiths retired to Virden into a four-plex. It was destroyed by fire in 2011, a traumatic time. But when it was re-built, they moved back into a new building in 2013.
“We thought we were on our second honeymoon!” laughs Dorothy. Everything, furniture and all, was brand new.
“We are thankful to be living in Virden where we have family, friends and great neighbours. We are members of the New Horizon Centre.” They used to take part in seniors’ games such as floor shuffle, even travelling to other clubs to play. COVID-19 stopped these fun activities.
Now, Russell does jigsaw puzzles, and every family member has received a completed puzzle. Dorothy likes search word puzzles; and they have back gammon and cribbage games together.
The Smiths look forward to a family celebration of their 75 years of marriage. Dorothy says, “COVID-19 and God willing, we will celebrate next summer with a big garden party!”