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Love, Laughter Through Seven Decades

One Couples’ Secret To Lifetime Of Happiness

How many couples make it to their 70th wedding anniversary? Not many. Right? According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, only one-tenth of 1 percent of all marriages last 70 years or more.

But don’t waste time relaying that fact to Rae and Jack Kootman, a lovely St Louis couple who will soon celebrate their 72nd wedding anniversary. Theirs is a love story dating back to their high school days.

“For me, it was love at first sight,” Jack remembers.

Jack went to high school at Blewett, and Rae went to Soldan. When the two schools merged, the magic began. Rae was a freshman, and Jack, a junior.

“I was attending a sorority dance at Soldan Blewett and spotted her across the room,” Jack says. “She was, by far, the prettiest girl at the dance.”

Rae was not as easily smitten. She says Jack seemed nice enough, and he did give her chocolates. But she spotted two additional boxes of chocolates on the rear deck of his car.

“It would be safe to say that I was a little skeptical about my new acquaintance,” she says, laughing.

Regardless of her apprehension, Jack wasted no time in asking her out.

Their first date was ice skating at Wintergarden on Debalivere. The next, a movie, then a dinner date, and by the end of the year, Jack had proposed to Rae on bended knee.

“There was a slight hesitation that almost made my heart stop beating before she said yes,” Jack laughs.

On June 24, 1951, the Kootmans married at the historic DeSoto Hotel on Locust. Shortly after, Jack was drafted into the Korean War. Though their honeymoon was cut short, they were ecstatic to learn Rae was expecting a baby girl.

“It turned out that I was very lucky. As a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division, I was sent to Germany, while several guys in my battalion went to Korea,” recalls Jack. “Many of them never came home.”

The couple went on to raise four children, who would later bless them with 20 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren. Family has always been the driving force behind their long-lasting union.

“Rae and I made trust an important part of our relationship, so there’d be times when I’d go to hang out with friends, and she’d have an evening out with the girls. It was never a problem,” says Jack.

“It was all because of the trust and respect we have for one another,” Rae adds.

Jack and Rae make it a point to have fun together. Both are avid skeet shooters. Jack is the No. 10 skeet shooting champion in Missouri, but he says that doesn’t mean much when he’s shooting with Rae.

Jack laughs, “Many times on the way out, we’d hear the manager over the loudspeaker say, Mrs. Kootman beat him again.”

Jack says he’s always loved teasing Rae. “I would sometimes hide in the closet and jump out to scare her.” Laughing, he continues, "Periodically, I still do!”

Jack is now 92, and Rae is 89. This love story is seven decades in the making, and both say it’s extremely important to keep the romance and fun in their marriage. Jack and Rae agree that keeping that physical connection is essential.

“We have always done lots of hugging and kissing throughout our marriage,” Jack says. 

To this day, they go to bed together every night and wake up together each morning.

“We have always done lots of hugging and kissing throughout our marriage.”  To this day, they go to bed together every night and wake up together each morning.