NEWBERG — Aboard a U.S. Navy ship during World War II, Claude Arrington received a regular ration of cigarettes. But the slim sailor didn’t smoke. Instead, he sold the packs, sending the profit to his wife, Yvette.
“We bought furniture for our first house with that,” Yvette says, smiling at her sweetheart more than seven decades later.
A common faith, thinking as a team, being flexible and arguing candidly but respectfully are among the keys for this pair, named Oregon’s longest married couple after a search by Worldwide Marriage Encounter.
The Arringtons were wed May 23, 1942, at St. Elizabeth Church in Van Nuys, California. Claude, raised by Baptist parents, became Catholic before the wedding and says his faith provided a foundation for a good, long marriage. Yvette’s mother had pointed out the risks of a mixed marriage and the couple are glad she did.
“We’ve had a super life,” says Claude, 95.
“We’ve always had God at the top and we let him decide,” adds Yvette, 93.
He was born in Los Angeles, she in a small town near Winnipeg. By 1940, they were together at Van Nuys High School, where they met during dance class.
“He was the smoothest dancer and I loved his red curly hair,” Yvette recalls. That prompts Claude to run a hand over his now-bald pate. Both laugh.
Young Yvette took a daring step and phoned the boy who had so impressed her. She asked him to attend a hay ride. Though she thought his name was Clyde, the message got through.
They hit it off and over a course of months began talking about life, including children and faith.
Claude planned on college, but with a war on, he was encouraged to work in a local airplane factory. When it became clear he should join the Navy, he and Yvette agreed it was time to get married.
With Claude newly Catholic, they had a wedding on a May morning, followed by a honeymoon in Santa Barbara. Yvette had a daughter before Claude shipped out on a 20-month tour that included both the Atlantic and the Pacific: no email, no phone calls and only spotty mail that was read by censors.
Yvette did odd jobs while Claude sent home what money he could. The household got by, but without much to spare.
Claude made it home in one piece and, he says, exactly nine months later he and Yvette had another daughter.
They would have four children in all, three girls and a boy. They agreed on how to raise a family, something they had established before the wedding day.
“We did a lot of talking to find out our likes and dislikes, religion and everything else,” Yvette says.
To help make ends meet for the growing family, Yvette opened a home child care and eventually worked for the local school district. Claude became a mail carrier, but cleaned schools in the evenings and a restaurant on weekends. He delivered the Los Angeles Times early in the morning, including to the splendid home of Liberace, the piano star.
In Hollywood, where marriages seem ephemeral, the Arringtons stayed together with joy.
On weekends, a mother or sister would come watch the children while Claude and Yvette drove away on a date of three or four hours.
“You have to keep your marriage going,” Yvette says.
In later years, they took longer trips. They have been in every state, plus Belgium and Canada and a few cruises.
Through it all, they have communicated.
“You have to talk to each other,” Yvette says. “If he doesn’t like something, he tells me. If I don’t like something, I tell him.” Always, the interaction is respectful.
“I never heard my parents yell at each other, ever,” says Marilyn Scheuermann, their daughter and a Newberg resident. “When they had discussions, they would go to the bedroom and have a quiet talk.”
The Arringtons had their own hobbies. Yvette is an artist who sews, paints and makes ceramics. Claude loves the horse track. Both stayed within their budgets. Together, they went square dancing and ballroom dancing.
“Dad is very easy going,” says Scheuermann. “Mom could plan things and he would go along.”
The couple came to Oregon 11 years ago to be near Scheuermann, who drives her parents to St. Peter Church here for Mass each weekend. Yvette belongs to the Catholic Daughters and has a deep devotion to Mary. “Our Lady has been very good to us,” she says, showing a rosary she has had since childhood.
Claude has cancer that is spreading, but he amazingly is pain free, which the couple accepts as a blessing. They still go on outings with family.
They have eight grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren.
Marriage Encounter invited each parish in the archdiocese to name their longest-wed couples. Results from that search will be published in a future Sentinel.
“I think it’s important to highlight marriages that have succeeded — through the thick and thin,” says Jason Kidd, director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life at the Archdiocese of Portland. “It serves as a good reminder that a long-lasting joyful marriage is possible.”