J.W. and Dorothy Suddarth first met at a street fair in Pleasant Hill, Mo., in the 1930s — the couple didn’t expect then that they would be married for more than 75 years.
J. Suddarth, 94, and Dorothy, 92, now live in Union where much of their family is still located.
Dorothy, while not yet in high school, was a contortionist and worked for change, mostly at street fairs, during the Great Depression.
She was very flexible and shaped her body as young as 3. She was born and raised in Harrisonville, Mo.
“I could twist myself every which way,” she said. “I was hired to do stunts at street fairs and in two theaters in Kansas City.”
After the couple met at the Pleasant Hill Fair, J. visited Dorothy during her other job at the movie theater in Harrisonville.
J. Suddarth, who was from Freeman, Mo., southwest of Kansas City, played basketball through high school.
He also worked while young, and had a paper route.
“We were poor but didn’t know it,” Dorothy remembers. “We were all in the same boat.”
The couple dated through high school and were married Feb. 21, 1938, by Judge Bert Henry Rogers at a “Cupid’s Parlor” in Olathe, Kan.
Rogers was the father of Buddy Rogers, who was a famous actor at that time.
Due to the Depression, many couples had small weddings.
“We grew up in the Depression and didn’t have a big wedding,” Dorothy said. “We thought we had the finest wedding ever, and we did.”
She added that it takes the work of both of the couple to make a 75-year marriage successful.
“When we got married, we got married because we loved each other,” she said. “Both couples have to give 100 percent — not 50 percent.”
After the couple had been married, J. Suddarth was drafted into the Army during World War II. He served as a construction engineer for one year in Europe, and then a second year was stationed in the United States.
Work on the Pipeline
J. Suddarth had a career with Standard Oil Company working on crude oil pipelines.
The couple moved around often as required by the job.
“It was sometimes six months, sometimes a year,” he said.
The couple lived in Kansas, Texas, Illinois, Missouri and Indiana, and even were located in Port Genoa, Italy, for 1-1/2 years.
Dorothy admits there was a language barrier, and that it wasn’t always easy speaking a different language in a foreign country.
“We had more laughs at ourselves than ever trying to decipher can labels,” she said. “For the first time in life we were a minority.”
The couple remembers that during the day in Port Genoa, after many of the men would leave the hotel for the day, the heat was turned off.
“There were not a lot of women who traveled with men,” J. Suddarth said.
After they came back to the United States, the Suddarths eventually ended up in Lubbock, Texas. There, the couple had a friend who had a women’s apparel shop called “Pauline’s Sportswear,” which was part of a chain.
In 1974, J. took early retirement and they moved to Springfield, Mo., and they agreed to open a Pauline’s Sportswear store there.
They operated the store for six years.
J. and Dorothy have one daughter, Vicki Tanner, who was living in Union in the 1980s. The Suddarths moved to Union to be closer to Vicki and her family.
“When you just have one daughter you need to be close to your family,” Dorothy said.
Much of the Suddarths’ family still is in the Union area, including Vicki and her husband Jim Tanner.
They have three grandchildren, Rick Tanner and his friend Lorena, Panama; Dr. Terry Tanner and Jane, Union; and Lesa and Mike Lewis, Beaufort. The couple also have eight great-grandchildren and five great-great-granddaughters.
The Suddarths for many years visited their Lake of the Ozarks home where they often fished.
“We were avid fishermen until we got to the point that we couldn’t get in and out of the boat,” Dorothy said.
Today the couple read often and play games, sometimes daily.
Dorothy said they often will play cards, like the game pitch, following a meal at their Union home.
They both also do puzzles.
“We try to keep our minds working,” said Dorothy, “and we both love the outdoors.”
For many years they have kept a large garden, but have since downsized to growing only tomato plants.
“We are so fortunate at our age to still be in our own home and do our own work,” Dorothy said.
“It’s been a good life for us. We met so many friends — it has been an interesting life,” she added. “God has been awfully good to us.”