Northwest love stories: For 70 years, music to each other's ears

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Howard and Grace Horner were married on Valentine's Day in 1942.

They had originally planned a December 1941 wedding in Forest Grove, when Howard was scheduled to be home on leave from the Army, but the attack on Pearl Harbor resulted in his leave being canceled.

The couple were married instead on an Army base in Paso Robles, Calif. -- with only the minister and one or two witnesses.

Howard, 93, was a superintendent for the Davis Douglas School District; Grace, 94, was a substitute teacher in language arts and music.

The couple have three sons, seven grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

The Oregonian caught up with them in their Portland home to learn their secrets to a long and happy marriage.

How did you meet?
Howard: We met at Pacific University, because of music. I was one year ahead of her, but we were both singing in a cappella choir. I walked her home after a concert one night. In those days, hardly anybody who was a student in college had a car. And we walked home ...
Grace: And I couldn't get rid of him. (laughs)
Howard: And she pursued me relentlessly ever after. (laughs)

What do you remember most about being newlyweds?
Grace: Well, I felt a great feeling of relief. I wanted to get married to him. I always thought we should be married. We were in love with each other, which was a very good requirement.
Howard: We didn't have to get married; we got married because we wanted to. We were going together, so it wasn't any big shock to friends at Pacific or anything like that. It was just one of those nice things. The other part of it was I got along real well with her parents. And she got along just in a super way with my dad and my mother.
Grace: They were so wonderful.
Howard: And music has always been a major factor for us, and it was a very positive thing in my family as well as hers. My dad, he could have been a professional violin player and a baritone soloist. My mother was a good piano player and also had a nice voice.
Grace: And so, he had quite a responsibility to continue with the music.
Howard: Music has just been a major part of our family. We have three sons, and they all play instruments and they all can vocalize if they want to.

What's your favorite kind of music?
Grace: Classic.
Howard: All. I mean it. We don't throw stuff out because it's a little jazzy. We play it. We play some difficult things that we only play just for exercise. You can get just a wide, wide range and still enjoy playing it. And if it's good enough, some other people are going to enjoy hearing you play.
Grace: Hopefully.
Howard: Grace has a marvelous soprano voice, so she doesn't have to have other instruments.
Grace: I do sing on pitch, but I'm not a professional. We go to Cherry Park United Methodist Church, and we always sing in the choir. We don't have very many in the choir, maybe eight or nine.
Howard: Church and vocal music has been something that we've both been involved in, even when we had kids. Jim plays the trombone, Rob plays the clarinet, Greg plays the trumpet and I play a tuba, and Grace plays the piano. Years ago, (if) the kids were going to be gathering around, either Grace or I were just saying to them, "Bring your horn," which was not just a request. If they were driving here, and they thought about it and they don't have their horn, they turned around and went back and got it.

What has been the biggest challenge you've faced together?
Grace: As far as I'm concerned, it's my hearing.
Howard: Our marriage has been incredibly good. Neither one of us has ever been off-base with either alcohol, or other women or men. Or smoking. Of course, there's an awful lot of people who smoke that have good marriages. We just don't happen to. We're getting to the place where we might even be considered to be old. I am, but she isn't.
Grace: Speak for yourself.

What is your secret to a long and happy marriage?
Grace: I would say, communication. You just have to communicate, and you don't always have to agree, but you do have to communicate.
Howard: Truth. We have known some people, not too many, who seem to get together, but one of them never knew where the other one was, or what he or she was doing. There was a little faking going on. I think that honesty is one of those major factors in true love.

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Was there ever a time that you thought that your marriage wouldn't last?
Grace: I can't remember.
Howard: I think for my standpoint, zero.
Grace: I think we just assumed we'd make it.
Howard: As a school person, I saw almost every kind of family in action that you could get. There were some times when we really tried to help some of them out, other times the best thing to do is just stay the heck out of it. You see some that are so selfish they can't open a door for their wife. But most of the families were a great joy to work with. If you have a good school, the probability of having lousy families is pretty remote. I've always felt that if you have a good school, by that I mean good teachers, good custodians, all the people that are surrounded and working with the school, have a positive thing going, it works on parents.

Did you ever think that you would be married for 70 years?
Grace: Oh, my goodness. 70 years.
Howard: Is it really 70?
Grace: That's what it is, dear.
Howard: If you would have asked me to make a guess, I would have said 55.
Grace: Yeah.
Howard: We have three sons. We have been very, very, very proud of them. Having the caliber of kids that we have makes it very easy for us to be good parents.

What advice would you give to newlyweds today?
Grace: To be open-minded.
Howard: That's good. Be kind. Be kind to your beloved. And it goes both ways. The man needs to be kind to his wife; his wife needs to be kind. And a lot of times it's little bitty things. Like, some kind of little miserable thing happens, and it ticks one or both of them off and then there's fighting going on.
Grace: Honey, we didn't fight. I don't think of ever fighting, do you?
Howard: Oh, I'm talking about other people. We don't fight. There's an awful lot of people who worry about old age, and they get into about 65 or 70 and then they start worrying about what's going to happen. For us, we have differences of opinion, but we don't squabble or fight. We have had lots of good experiences together, and it's hard for us to find something to fight about. I think we could if we worked at it.
Grace: I don't even think about that. Why should we?

-- Jennifer Willis