Seventy years ago, a young girl saw a photo in a local newspaper of a young boy, a member of the Vandalia High School FFA chapter … and fell in love with him.
She didn’t know who he was, but she cut the picture out of the paper, and showed it to friends and family as the guy she was going to marry.
Meet Dwight and Darlene Denning as they share their unique and lasting love story. As they celebrate their 66th wedding anniversary, Darlene still has that same 70-year-old newspaper clipping in her purse.
Darlene and Dwight sat side-by-side as they began telling their story.
“She cut my picture out of the paper when she was 14 years old,” Dwight said. “Her mom asked her who that was and she said, ‘That’s the guy I’m going to marry.’”
Laughing, Darlene said, “I never had seen him and didn’t know him,” but it was the beginning of a lasting love affair.
“And then,” Dwight said, “she took the picture to school and said that it was her boyfriend.
“It was an FFA picture. We had to go to Champaign to get our badge and they put it in the paper. One of the others was Gerald Woolsey,” he recalled.
Darlene pulled the old picture out of her billfold, the edges worn and torn, but the picture of a young, handsome, smiling young man was still intact and clear.
“We met at the skating rink,” Dwight said. “We skated a million miles before we got married.”
Darlene admitted that when she first met Dwight, she told him she was going to marry him.
“There wasn’t any ifs and ands about it, she just said we were going to get married,” Dwight said.
He lived in the country, and “Darlene’s girlfriends would let her know when I was in town. I just thought, ‘Why fight it,’” he said.
“She didn’t ask me to marry her, she just said, ‘When are we going to get married?’ and I said, ‘When you get old enough,’” he said
They married when she was 18 and he was 21.
“We were married in Vandalia, over the coffee shop,” Dwight said. “It (coffee shop) was run by a preacher, Orville Wright, and he married us June 4 in 1944.”
“Harry and Ruth (Benson) stood up with us,” Darlene added. “We lived in an old house at the bottom of the hill on St. Louis Avenue.”
“It was a garage, and they made a house out of it, ” Dwight said. “We lived there for four years, and then we moved to the country,” Darlene said.
Dwight started farming, and they have lived in rural Vandalia ever since.
A Family Follows…
The Dennings have two sons, Howard and Dave. Howard and his wife, May, and they two sons. Dave’s wife’s name is Sue.
Darlene laughs as she tells about putting Howard and Dave in an empty cattle tank to keep them safe from the machinery as she helped Dwight on the farm.
Dwight Made Lemonade Out of Lemons
Dwight Denning is a respected name in the antique tractor pulling world. He has won numerous awards and trophies, including two state championships.
He used old tractors he overhauled and tuned up to outpull most of his competitors.
Dwight displayed his sense of humor by telling how he once putting a spark plug on a radiator cap and ran the wire to the back wheel. The judges thought he was doing something illegal.
Dwight recalled, “The judge said, ‘Does this do anything?’ and I said, ‘It works good.’ He said, ‘What does it do? And I said, ‘Makes people ask questions.’”
“Darlene and I took that to the DuQuoin Fair, and everybody bit on it, “ he said laughing.
Son Dave reminded him of how the interest in the old tractors started. Dwight had lost all his crops that year, due to a drought. He decided to work on an old tractor to take his mind off the loss.
The rest is history.
Dwight and Darlene have been inseparable through their years together. Darlene was by Dwight’s side, helping him with chores and raising their sons. She also went with him to tractor pulls.
They told of a time when he had been trying to change a wheel on a tractor and couldn’t get it off.
When he went to bed that night, he dreamed he was trying to get the wheel off. In the dream, he sat on the ground and put his feet against the wheel and pushed hard.
“Boy, that thing just slid over there 90 miles an hour, and there was the darndest noise you ever heard. Somebody said, ‘What did you kick me out of bed for?’” he said. Still asleep, he said, “My wrench slipped, I can’t find my wrench.”
Wide awake from the fall, Darlene said, “If I find it, I’m going to kill you with it.” In reality, he had pushed Darlene out of bed.
The Dennings laughed heartily together at the memory.
They have many stories to tell about their lives together.
The Dennings worked hard, but still enjoyed their life together, which amazingly, began with a 14-year-old girl’s crush on an unknown boy in a newspaper photo 70 years ago.
“It’s been a rough life, but its been a happy one,” Darlene said, and as Dwight tricked her into getting close enough to kiss him, it is obvious Dwight feels the same way.
Young at heart, their love story continues on.