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When Alma Ruth and James Marsh vowed to love, honor and cherish each other nearly 68 years ago, they meant what they said. Sherrie Norris | Watauga Democrat.

Originally published: 2013-02-13 10:42:10
Last modified: 2013-02-13 10:54:35

Lasting love: Couple together 67 years

by Sherrie Norris

After nearly 68 years of marriage and raising their four sons together, James and Alma Ruth Marsh of Boone know a thing or two about enduring love.

It’s all about respect, the couple said, and faith — in each other and in God ­— not to mention romance and remembering special occasions, like Valentine’s Day.

Having known each other since childhood and growing up in the same neighborhood in Boone, the two have never been apart for any longer than circumstances, such as World War II, required.

Alma Ruth (Hagaman) was 9 and James, 11, when they discovered each other as friends, attended the same school and enjoyed a marble game to two — a competition in which the lady always won, she said.

James was an adolescent when his family moved from downtown Boone onto the university campus, where his father worked as building superintendent.

Immediately after the 1940 flood ravaged the area, at 16, he rode his bicycle across town to check on his sweetheart, just one indication of his growing affection.

“I always walked home from school for lunch,” said Alma Ruth, “and he was always waiting for me when I returned, with a candy bar in his hand.”

Both were in the school band, she played the clarinet and he, the drums. “We also liked to play ping-pong,” she said, but James said his favorite game was post office.

At 16, he graduated from Appalachian High School, riding his bicycle to work at “the (Winn) Dixie store,” before heading off to Norfolk to work in the shipyards. “I got so lonesome for a pretty little girl, that after two weeks, I came home,” he said.

He later made it six months working at an aircraft factory in Long Beach, Ca., before returning home. Soon afterward, in May 1943, at 18, James was drafted into the military.

In the United States Air Force, he completed aeronautical training in Mississippi, attended aircraft engineering school in Michigan and gunnery school in Texas.

His two-and-one-half years in service included a stint in England, during which time he completed 24 missions over Germany, as a flight engineer on a B-24.

James had orders for Japan when the war ended. He returned to Boone a decorated staff sergeant, married his sweetheart within days, and resumed his job at Winn-Dixie, where he became assistant manager.


“I didn’t know when he would be back, but I was ready to marry him whenever he got here,” said Alma Ruth.  

James eventually joined the staff at Northwestern Bank. Twelve years later, he moved to Watauga Savings and Loan and after 25 years, retired as president.

 The next year, 1987, he suffered a heart attack; a stoke followed 10 days later with a bleak prognosis for recovery.

“I was told that I’d never be able to do much of anything and that I’d never walk again,” he said. “It’s been a long, hard pull, but you do what you have to do. I wouldn’t be here without the good Lord and Alma Ruth. I’ve always wanted her by my side in everything I’ve ever done. When I worked and had to go on trips, I took her with me every time I could.”

James worked hard and was a good provider, Alma Ruth said. “After Jimmy, our first son was born, he told me one day that we needed to talk. I was afraid he wanted a divorce,” she said, “but he told me that he didn’t want me to work outside the home.”

She had been a bookkeeper at Belk.

Raising their four sons (Jimmy, Randy, Lesley and Ronnie) has been a joy, the couple agrees. “None of them are alike and we wouldn’t have it any other way,” Alma Ruth said.

“Out of four sons, we’ve had four deacons in the church,” James said. “That sure has made us proud.”

Twelve grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren and their daughters-in-law have added to their pride, they said.

“We were both raised in church by loving, hard-working, Christian parents. We tried to follow their example in raising our family,” said Alma Ruth.

The Marsh family has a long association with First Baptist Church of Boone, where the boys were taken regularly and the parents fulfilled various leadership roles.  They were also involved in numerous mission efforts, at home and abroad, as well as community and civic organizations. James served on many boards, including that of Samaritan’s Purse as well as Watauga County Board of Education, and Appalachian State University. He was also on Boone Town Council and president of the N.C. Savings and Loan League. 

His success as a well-known businessman would not have been possible without his wife, he said.          

"Without any reservation at all, she has been the best wife and mother in the world. She always put my needs, and those of the boys, before her own. She basically raised our boys and did the disciplining,” he said.

“We always wanted the boys and their friends to feel that our home was a happy, safe place to be,” she said. “In fact, we hosted the area’s first after-prom party at our house, many years ago.” 

If you’re going to raise a family, James said, “You’ve got to love them, be responsible for them and set a good example.”

It’s been a good life, Alma Ruth said.

“There is no perfect marriage, but he’s been a wonderful, faithful husband, always thoughtful, kind and generous," she said.

Among her treasured gifts from her husband is a charm bracelet that includes a cross she wore as a child, in addition to tiny replicas of their band instruments from high school — and many more keepsakes.

 They have enjoyed traveling together; on one occasion after James fell ill, with Alma Ruth behind the wheel, they left Boone one morning and ended up several days later in California.

They’ve also enjoyed golf and gardening; not so long ago, they moved 96 rose bushes from their home of 70 years to another, a short distance away.

With five other couples, the Marshes formed a club that met for many years for meals and fellowship. “We are the only complete pair left,” Alma Ruth said.

James loves sports; his wife has always liked to sew and cook.

And James, now 88, and Alma Ruth, 86, have some advice for younger couples: “Put your mate before yourself, respect each other and each other’s families, give it your best effort, be kind, not hurtful; always look for the good in each other, talk things out and be willing to work through things together — and admit when you are wrong.”

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