Harriet Drendel’s family farm on Hobson Road wasn’t far from the Kuhn’s farm on Modaff Road in the 1920s when the population of Naperville was 5,000 and kids from both families had in common 4H Club, and Naperville Community High School.
In the midst of surprise 16th-birthday preparations for Harriet, her mother asked 21-year-old Ray to get Harriet out of the house for awhile.
“There was always a little electricity there after that day,” Harriet said, as she described Ray as handsome, kind and having a “good personality."
Both Ray and Harriet teased each other about how many others they had dated until they started dating exclusively.
They eventually married on Oct. 4, 1941 when Harriet was 21 years old.
Ray, 95, and Harriet, who just turned 91 Monday, are celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary Tuesday.
“Harriet had all of the qualities of a girl that I would want to marry,” Ray Kuhn said.
The couple married at Saints Peter and Paul and after a California honeymoon, began their new chapter with many shared interests. At the top of the list were dancing and card games.
“We thought we did some crazy things in our youth,” Harriet Kuhn said, recalling haphazard hayrides.
Later years brought “mock weddings” given for milestone anniversaries when women dressed as groomsmen and the men dressed in drag as the bridal party, using green onions as bouquets. Ray took a moment to brag while laughing heartily that once as a bridesmaid, he had the best looking legs.
“We did things that didn’t cost a lot of money,” he said.
Ray was drafted into the Army in 1942. One week after he left for basic training, their first son Bill was born.
“During the war, I lived with my parents,” Harriet said. “Ray and I never complained about anything bad that happened, we just did what needed to be done.”
Ray Kuhn was able to see his son after three months when he was granted a leave to visit his dying mother.
His service sent him to Africa, France, Germany and Italy over the next several years. By that time, Bill was 3 and Ray Kuhn had not yet met his second son Dave who was 2 years old.
He remembers asking a local villager to show him a 3-year-old.
“I wanted to get an idea of how big a 3-year-old was, so I could try and picture how big Bill was,” he said.
After World War II, Ray and Harriet Kuhn moved their growing brood to live on a farm Ray was hired to manage near North Aurora and Eola roads. Soon Bill and Dave were joined by siblings Tom, Tim, Don, Mary Kay, Carol and Roger.
“All of the kids went to Saints Peter and Paul and l [High School],” Harriet said. The exception was Roger, who was in the first graduating class at newly built .
Ray and Harriet shared stories of school picnics on the farm, involvement at Saints Peter and Paul, large extended family parties, a card club that spanned 50 years, and a regular dance club that fizzled after many years as the couples' ages caught up with them.
Once a month for years, 25 couples brought their own food and drinks to the American Legion Hall located above where they danced to a five-piece band, the couple said. Sometimes the group ventured out to O’Henry Park, now known as the Willowbrook Ballroom.
The couple’s first priority, however, was always family. Ray once held an extra job and Harriet also found work to make ends meet.
“All the kids were able to pick the sport they wanted, so we had four football players, one wrestler and one golfer,” Harriet said, adding that they never missed a single game or match. She’d just load the little ones in the car and bring them along.
“We were strict parents,” Ray Kuhn said. “The big kids helped with the younger ones, and everyone had a purpose on the farm.”
The couple had its share of hardships over the years, they said. The stress of war, a son’s bout with polio, and emergency surgery for Ray one Christmas were all situations Harriet and Ray feel fortunate they were able to handle.
They said they experienced ups and downs in life and marriage, and they relied on their faith to carry them through both.
“Whatever we were handed, we just didn’t think it was so severe we couldn’t get through it,” Harriet said, adding that the couple doesn’t take their good health for granted.
Their youngest son, Roger Kuhn, agreed that his parents' faith has gotten them through their challenges.
“They’ve had some hard times,” Roger said, “but they don’t see it that way because of their [strong] faith.”
He added that living through the Depression instilled his parents with a sense of strong internal fortitude.
The Kuhn family has grown exponentially over the last 70 years. The number of children, spouses, grandchildren and great-grandchildren has coincidentally reached 70 this week with the birth of Harriet and Ray’s newest great-grandson Peyton Lewis.
“We have the nicest kids and best grandchildren,” Harriet said.
“And everyone’s spouses are the greatest in the world,” added Ray.
The Kuhn’s celebrated their 70th anniversary over the weekend with a luncheon the couple’s children hosted.
“We realize we are very lucky,” Harriet said.
Youngest grandchild Audrey Kuhn, a junior at l, shared the reasons her grandparents inspire her.
“They were both 100 percent committed to making sure their children had what they needed,” Audrey Kuhn said. “And it’s so inspiring to know that love can last that long."