Dick and Naomi Frana of rural Calmar will be happily married 70 years in September. Their kindness and consideration for each other is probably the key to their successful marriage.
Sitting down with them at their rural farm home north of Calmar, off of Highway 52, we chatted over coffee and homemade cookies as they shared their love story with us. They still look at each other with that special twinkle in their eyes as they laugh at something they remember from their life together. Sometimes there were a few tears, because it doesn’t matter how many years have gone by, some sad memories in life will feel like it happened only yesterday. But they got through the tragic times together and grew stronger as they leaned on each other.
In 1940, Dick was a bachelor living on a farm by Ridgeway that was owned by his father. Dick’s parents were the late Steven and Francis (Havel) Frana. Two friends talked Dick into going to the Riverside Park in Spillville for the Fourth of July celebration. They met three girls from Calmar; one was Naomi’s sister, Rosemary. The Inwood Ballroom and Riverside Park was the hub of the social center at the time, but they had never met these girls before. The girls invited them to come to Calmar the next Sunday to go roller skating. There, Rosemary introduced her sister Naomi to Dick and he asked her to skate. Later that evening Dick asked Naomi if he could give her a ride home in his Model A Coupe with a rumble seat. They began dating.
When Naomi was a senior at South Winneshiek High School in Calmar during World War II, Secret Service men came to the school looking for girls to work for the FBI in Washington, D.C. Naomi and two other girls applied, but Naomi was the only one at her school to go. She left right after she graduated. The letters flowed between Dick and Naomi. Naomi said sometimes she would write Dick five times a week. In the meantime, Naomi’s parents Frederick and Margaret (Meyer) Houdek, moved from Calmar to Algona Iowa because Naomi’s father, an express agent for the railroad, had been transferred there.
Naomi came home for Christmas. Dick came to Algona to see her as soon as she got home. He asked her parents if he could go upstairs to talk with Naomi and there on the upstairs landing Dick proposed to her. Naomi accepted. Times were hard, and so Naomi decided to go back to Washington D.C. after Christmas break to work until summer to help pay for the expense of her wedding dress.
Before getting married they were to go to confession at St. Aloysius in Calmar. The couple laughed as they recalled that Dick was a bit nervous about it because it was the first time he would say confession in English, he was used to saying it in Czech at his parish. The happy couple married Wednesday, September 6, 1944 at 8 a.m. at St. Aloysius church in Calmar. They had three bridesmaids and three groomsmen and Naomi’s little sister was the flower girl. Usually the meals and receptions are held in the bride’s home, but because her parents lived farther away they had the meals in the church basement. They had the reception at Naomi’s Uncle Jerry Becker’s garage where they could serve liquor in the afternoon and then kicked up their heels to the Jack Still Band at the Inwood Ballroom in Spillville that evening. In between all this the wedding party made a trip to Decorah to get their studio portrait taken. They honeymooned at Milac Lake, Minn., the first of many vacations the couple would take together.
They have seen many changes in their 67 years of marriage in the world. When they were first married they didn’t have electricity and also had to use a pump outside to get water as they began to farm and raise a family together in Madison Township by Decorah. Early in their marriage they moved to a different farm where they are still living today, between Calmar and Decorah. Naomi laughs as she recalls first gathering eggs, which was new to her since she was used to living in town, because she worried about the hens pecking her. But that didn’t bother their oldest son, Gary, already at age two he enjoyed picking the eggs out from under the chickens for his mother.
The couple has celebrated many wonderful times together, but also has seen tough times too. One of the most heart-wrenching of all was losing their youngest son Danny at only four years and 10 months old to leukemia. At the time they also were dealing with the worry of having their son Gary in the Vietnam War. Luckily, Gary was able to get back for the funeral and finished out his last two weeks of service in the United States.
Their loving marriage brought into this world son Gary (Lois), daughter Pat, son Frederick (Mary), son Mark (Lesley), and their deceased son Danny. They have eight grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren, with the 12th expected in June.
The couple agrees that good communication, learning to compromise and doing many things together has helped their marriage. Dick’s good sense of humor helps too, as he points out, “Sometimes you need to know when it’s better not say anything at all.” Naomi says Dick has always been good about giving gifts and bringing home flowers. Grateful Naomi says, “I always get a card to recognize the special day and I save them, they are precious.”
The Frana’s advice to couples about Valentine’s Day is to make it a special day, show your loved ones how grateful you are to have them in your life. But most of all, it’s about being kind, considerate and appreciate every day together, not just Valentine’s Day.