Jeannine Eiesland says she and her husband, David, had already “experienced enough of the world to know life is not a bed of roses,” when they got married 60 years ago.
Growing up in Ohio, Jeannine remembers watching her father shovel coal into their furnace at home and thinking about the victims of the Holocaust (“I would have been about Ann Frank’s age,” she says). And David, who moved around the Midwest as a kid, was a freshman in high school when polio reached its peak and families isolated themselves to avoid the disease.
In June 1960, when the couple married, sit-ins were taking place across the country in protest of segregation, and the following spring, as they were contemplating starting a family, the Bay of Pigs happened, marking the height of the Cold War.
So, no strangers to adversity, the Eieslands handled it just fine when COVID-19 meant there would be no big party for their milestone wedding anniversary this summer. Their three grown children, Eric, Nora and Connie, invited loved ones to send cards and letters to their parents instead, which plenty of people did.
“We did nothing; we knew better,” says David of not having an in-person celebration. “We’re just grateful to reach our 60th. We got a whole bunch of greetings from other people who’d lasted this long, and others who hoped to.”
Though the COVID-19 era stands out to Jeannine as especially “peculiar and weird” and they miss their children, grandchildren and close friends, she says, “The pandemic has not been difficult for us. We have each other and this beautiful place here in the country…”
The Eieslands live on a 70-acre homestead several miles north of Detroit Lakes. They bought the place 50 years ago and never left, David says, choosing fresh air and open countryside over the smog-filled town near Chicago where they lived before.
Aficionados of nature, music and art, they’re well-known in the local community, as David was an art teacher at Detroit Lakes Middle School for nearly 30 years, and Jeannine has been active with the local library and theater troupe. David used to help build sets and make posters for community musicals, while Jeannine would act and sing in them. They also sang together for years in the choir at First Lutheran Church, and are avid travelers.
Having lifelong shared interests like those, David says, has been fundamental to their relationship. The couple also share similar values, and have always striven to treat each other with respect and understanding.
“We all make mistakes and judgments in things we say… that’s part of life,” says David. “You learn to roll with the punches, and respect them (your partner) at least as much as yourself.”
He describes their marriage as “fun” and “fairly peaceful” and says that while he and Jeannine have had their challenges over the decades, “We did take our vows seriously … We were always in it for the long haul. We loved and respected each other enough to know that, if somebody said things that maybe hurt a little, you just let it fly and wait a little bit, and you live through it. If you ever feel slighted, think again, because people make mistakes and say things they don’t really mean. Give it some time.”
How they met
Jeannine says she was expected to find herself a husband, “preferably, ‘A Man of the Cloth,’” while attending Wittenberg University in her home state, but despite her pastor’s high hopes, “I graduated from Wittenberg unwed and unpromised and about as immature as when I began college.”
Since it was her intention to become a homemaker, she started out with no specific career plan. But with no marriage prospects in sight, she began working toward a degree in art education. After college, she was hired to teach art in two different schools in Hammond, Ind., which is close to Chicago and is considered part of the metro area.
It was at the start of her second year of teaching, she says, when, “I first laid eyes on Mr. David Eiesland.”
Immediately interested in him, she enlisted the help of a friend to find out whether this alluring fellow art teacher had a girlfriend: “I figured he must have, since he had dimples and the pale blue eyes that were two of my three requirements in a husband," she says. "The third requirement was that my intended be able to play the piano.”
When she learned, to her delight, that David was not only single but also an excellent piano player, she turned down the advances of another man who was pursuing her at the time, “telling him I had met the man I was going to marry.”
David had no idea.
Raised on farms with no plumbing or even electricity for much of his boyhood, David attended country schools before spending four years at the University of South Dakota and then joining the Army. He was assigned first to Fort Benning, on the Alabama-Georgia border, and then Fort Riley in Kansas before he moved to the Chicago area and joined the Hammond School District staff as an art teacher.
He remembers first seeing Jeannine at required staff meetings, and then, later, at church choir rehearsals. (The choir director at Jeannine’s church, who was also a music teacher at the school where David worked, recruited him to sing in the choir).
“Jeannine was in that choir,” he says, “and the rest is history.”
She made a strong impression on him, he recalls: “She was classy, and she had a gorgeous voice, and she was an art teacher. We had all kinds of things that we enjoyed that were the same. It didn’t take too long (to realize she was ‘the one’).”
A bit shy and reserved at first, David eventually mustered up the courage to ask Jeannine out, she says, and they spent about the next year dating. One of their first dates was attending a figure drawing class at the Chicago Art Museum. Other times, they’d watch lectures and concerts through last-minute ticket deals at some of Chicago’s best venues.
“We heard all the greats and saw and heard marvelous stuff,” David says.
“David and I were probably first and foremost drawn together by our cultural interests,” says Jeannine. “We are very different in our personalities but share the things we both value most. We share a deep appreciation for the fine arts, for the natural world, for the many very interesting people who have passed through our lives, and we share what I think is essential to a successful marriage — a sense of humor.”
On June 18, 1960, David and Jeannine were married in a small ceremony at her father’s newly built church in Hammond.
It was a family affair: Jeannine’s father officiated, and her mother handmade the pale pink bridesmaid dresses. David’s brother played the cello as the couple walked down the aisle. Friends were also integral: Jeannine’s wedding dress was designed by a mutual art student friend of theirs, and was sewn by the church secretary.
“In our day and age, marriage was for life, so the wedding ceremony was conducted with some solemnity and followed by an ice cream and cake reception in the church social room,” Jeannine says.
“We were in swallowtail vests and ascots, the whole thing,” David recalls. “I have fond memories of that day.”
After that, they traveled up to Mackinac Island, Michigan, to the Grand Hotel, for “the honeymoon of our dreams,” says Jeannine. “Our children honored us on our 50th anniversary by sending us back to the Grand Hotel . . . a gift that could never be surpassed. Our wedding was exactly to our tastes, so we have loved recalling it over the years.”
The couple returned to Hammond after their honeymoon and moved into their first home together, which David describes as, “the maid’s quarters of a very big home of a doctor’s widow.”
Later, they moved about a block away from there, into a home of their own. They both kept working as art teachers in Hammond; when David took a year off to earn his master’s degree, Jeannine kept working to essentially “hold” his job for him, and when he returned, she left her job and became a homemaker.
In 1964, the couple welcomed their first son, and then a daughter a year later. In 1977, their youngest daughter was born. The family spent their early years in that Chicago area, but after a while it became apparent that the kids were “not well suited for life in the suburbs,” Jeannine says, and “our neighborhood and the culture of the environment did not impress us as the ideal place for rearing children.”
They had come to know and love the Alexandria, Minn., area as a summer vacation spot, since David’s parents lived there, and they decided to move to Minnesota themselves. David started job hunting all over the region, and in 1970, he was hired as the middle school art teacher in Detroit Lakes. They immediately found their big, country homestead, and settled right in.
“Our children, from the moment they arrived on the land, behaved like wild things released from a zoo,” Jeannine says. “They explored the woods and the hills and the valleys, climbed the trees, walked the edges of the pond, met the extraordinarily helpful neighbors and fell totally in love with their new world. I thank God every day for bringing us to the promised land where David and I, and our children, blossomed and thrived.”
Today, David and Jeannine continue to thrive on that land. They planted 1,000 trees around the property, and spend some of their days entirely outside, trimming and mowing and pulling weeds and such. They want to continue to live there as long as they can, David says.
Their kids all live within driving distance, so during non-pandemic times they get to see them fairly often, and they also have three grandchildren and one great-grandchild now. They’re both 84 years old, and say they're grateful to be happy and healthy and still going strong.