by Lauren Pope, Staff Writer
Bud and Shirley Sutton recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. We caught up with the residents of The Lodge at Lane to discuss their favorite stories and vacation memories, advice for overcoming life’s hardships, and just general observations about what makes a successful 70-year union.
Their story began way up in rural Louisiana near Monroe. They graduated a year apart from a tiny parish school. Shirley graduated first. Though they’d started out in the same grade, as time went by Bud, like many of the boys at his school, had to leave school during cotton harvesting season to work the farm. This meant that they missed most of the spring semesters and had to attend school a bit longer to make up for those missed farm days.
Shirley studied business while she waited for him, and they married soon after his graduation. They eloped. They ran off to Vicksburg where there was no waiting period to get a marriage license. They returned home where Shirley began working at the local phone company.
“It was a very different world then. We had to answer the phone within three seconds or so, and if we stepped away from a call to get more information, we had to get back within a set amount of time or tell the customer that we’d call them back. The manager would check our desks for the call notes to make sure we were doing what we needed to.” Shirley smiles remembering the time she stood on the picket line when the workers went on strike. “Did they meet your demands?” I ask. “Well, we eventually went back to work, so I guess so,” she laughs. During this time, they had their first baby, a son named Lane who was always on the move.
Bud’s brothers told him about a job opportunity up in Illinois as a machinist at the Caterpillar tractor factory. It looked like a promising opportunity, so the young family headed north. Bud worked long hours and shortly after arriving Shirley found out that she was expecting once again.
This time was different though. “I had to go to maternity clothes about 6 weeks in, and I went out of maternity clothes by the end of it!” she says. Her doctor suspected that she might be having twins, but told her they’d find out for sure with an x-ray when she hit 7 months. By the time she went for that appointment and asked for the x-ray, the doctor told her there was no need. “There’s definitely two in there…maybe even three!” he announced. Thankfully, there were only two, and a few months later twins Donnie and Ronnie were born.
Their birth was quite eventful. Shirley went into labor while Bud was at the factory, and she had to be rushed to the hospital by her neighbors. Bud’s brothers went to fetch him from work, and they all made their way to the waiting room. When the boys were born, the doctor came out and asked for “Mr. Sutton” and all three stood up. “Uh, the one who’s the father,” deadpanned the doctor. The twins were BIG and healthy. The local grocery store featured them in an ad pinned at the front of the store “They shopped at Scottie’s!”
Soon though, despite the kindness of their friends and neighbors in Illinois, the Sutton’s felt like they needed to come home to Louisiana. Both of their fathers passed away during this time, and they knew that home was where they were supposed to be. Shirley’s brother told them about a job opening at the Paper Mill in Zachary and found them a house to rent. They moved here in April of 1959 and have been in the area ever since.
A fourth son, Bart, was born soon afterward, and Shirley mostly stayed home with her band of boys. She did pick up some work as an overnight switchboard operator though, connecting old farmers to each other at 4 and 5 in the morning. Bud continued his work at the Paper Mill, a place where he ended up working for over 35 years.
“I was also the Mayor,” says Bud, “Not many people can say that!” He explains that he served on the Zachary City Council for many years and was called up to be Mayor for a bit when the elected Mayor was incapacitated due to health issues. “I served my time and got out,” laughs Bud. He remained on the City Council though until the couple moved out of Zachary city limits.
It wasn’t all work and no play for the Suttons though. Shirley was a member of the Orchid Society which enabled the couple to go on two amazing trips to Costa Rica. Since they visited twice, they were able to see the same area in both the wet and dry seasons, which meant that they experienced the changing seasons and the changing flora and fauna. The plants and birds that they saw there were beyond anything they could have imagined. “You’d see these great green parrots flying into trees, and you couldn’t even see where they landed. They’d just blend in with the green leaves,” explains Bud. Shirley adds that while they were at dinner one night, a toucan swooped down and grabbed a plum out of Bud’s hand.
A few months before Bud was due to retire at the Paper Mill, and perhaps inspired by those birds from Costa Rica, Shirley decided that a bird would be a nice companion for them in their retirement. She found a lovely white cockatoo who they named Willy. “I asked her who would keep Willy while we traveled,” says Bud, “and she just told me that we’d have to get an RV so we could take him with us.”
That’s exactly what happened. They bought the RV, and over the course of 20 years the Suttons traveled with Willy all over the lower 48. “More people know Wilie than know us” they both agree. Willy, who now lives with another family member, was a fabulous companion. He came with the family on their visits to Silverton in Colorado and rode through the mountains and plains and coastways of America. “We thought of taking him to Hawaii, but then I realized there was no bridge,” winks Bud. They almost made it to Alaska, but a family member’s illness canceled that trip, and then, for many years, the Suttons acted as caregivers for different members of their family.
“We were always taking care of someone!” says Shirley. They cared for elderly family members who didn’t have children of their own. Even today, you will find them checking in on various elderly friends and encouraging them to come move over to The Lodge where the little hassles of life are seamlessly taken care of by the attentive staff. “A lot of good happens here, and that has a lot to do with that wonderful lady right there,” Shirley says, pointing to Lodge Director Tamara Dayton who, in addition to her work, has been a longtime family friend of the Suttons.
I asked them the key to a healthy life and a happy marriage. “The Lord has blessed and brought us this far and he’ll carry us the rest of the way,” says Shirley. “Until he carries us home,” adds Bud, “If you abide by that, you’ll be good.”