BioA: Opelt, Mr./Mrs. Bernard (70th - 2016)

Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon

Surnames: Opelt, Hediger, Schroeder, Harder, Gutenberger, Knoop,

----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) 5/11/2016

Opelts Celebrate Their Wedding Anniversary (70th - 22 May 2016)

Opelts Celebrate Their 70th Wedding Anniversary

Bernie and Hanna Opelt are shown on their wedding day, May 22, 1946. (Contributed photo)

By Nancy Curtin

What started out as an innocent prank of two young adults getting married instead of going roller-skating one Sunday afternoon surprisingly turned into a lifetime of memories?

Bernard “Bernie” and Hanna Opelt celebrated 70 years together during a huge bash attended by over 250 family and friends April 30 at the Neillsville American Legion.

While the best man and maid of honor were married and have passed away, the rest of the wedding party attended the event, including Meg Schroeder (Hanna’s sister of Montana, Bernie Harder (Hanna’s cousin of Illinois, Dottie Gutenberger (Bernie’s sister) of Granton, and Kenny Opelt (Bernie’s brother) Fritz Hediger (Hanna’s brother) and Rosie Knoop (Hanna’s sister), all of Neillsville.

Bernie and Hanna Opelt (seated, second and third from left) pose at the Neillsville American Legion April 30 with six family members who served in their wedding party 70 years ago. (Contributed Photo)

Bernie’s parents, Carl and Millie Opelt, lived their entire married life in Neillsville, where they raised their 12 children.

Hanna’s parents, Herman (Sr.) and Hanna Hediger, moved from Switzerland to Wisconsin at the tender ages of 18 and 21 respectively. They raised their family of six children in Christie, while owning and operating the Hediger Dairy Cheese Factory for much of their lives.

In the early 1940s, Bernie didn’t realize he would meet his lifetime soul mate at the ripe old age of 14. During their four years of courting, many of their date consisted of tagging along with Bernie’s three older brothers and their girlfriends.

“Oftentimes,” Bernie recalled, “we just went where the car went.” Sunday afternoon dates were often earmarked for roller-skating at the Neillsville Armory.

“When I picked Hanna up one Sunday, I told her mother we were going off to get married,” Bernie happily reminisced. While on their date, Mrs. Hediger telephoned her husband, who was working in Montana, and shared the wonderful news.

The newly engaged couple got a surprise of their own when they returned home that night.

“My Mom told us that my father would be home in two weeks for our wedding,” Hanna chuckled.

“My parents figured we’d move into the family home and care for my younger brothers. My mother was going to take a vacation and join my father in Montana for a while.”

About a month later, May 22, 1946, Bernie and Hanna were joined in holy matrimony among family and friends at the Neillsville Evangelical and Reformed Church.

“Getting to the altar had its challenges,” Hanna said. While the couple excitedly planned their wedding, World War II was in full force. During this time, the nation experienced gas and sugar rationing in an effort to make these commodities available to everyone.

One obstacle the couple overcame was finding the missing wedding dress; Hanna’s lovely wedding dress was shipped to Nelsonville by mistake. There was no guarantee the dress would arrive on time had the package been forwarded by mail.

“My father drove over two hours round trip to make sure I had my dress in time,” Hanna said.

During the trip, Herman took Hanna shopping for a trousseau and a going away outfit. Hanna fondly recollects her mother hinting to Herman that he let her buy everything she wanted to buy.

Another hurdle they experienced was being able to provide a big enough wedding cake due to the sugar rationing. Bernie’s mother graciously gave the couple all of her sugar stamps so they could have a wedding cake. Another crisis was adverted.

This wasn’t the last of the challenges for this young couple as they began their life together.

During the wedding celebration, the couple cleverly ditched the reception to kick off their honeymoon. They had nothing planned and no reservations.

Bernie snickered, “I suggested we head to my grandparents house in Waupaca while they were still at our reception.” Those plans quickly changed due to a pouring rain.

Shortly before sunrise, they finally found a hotel room in Waupaca with Bernie’s uncle Bill’s help. Hanna remembers the hotel clerk expressing a bewildered look while checking them in at such an odd hour.

Bernie and Hanna honeymooned for a week at a family-owned cottage on the Chain of Lakes. During this time, Uncle Bill attempted to throw a surprise party for them. The sneaky couple mysteriously disappeared, nowhere to be found.

Bernie and Hanna have achieved and shared in several memorable milestones along their life’s journey.

In 1944, at the young age of 16, Bernie purchased and drove his first milk route for American Dairy Stores. Initially, he didn’t even have a driver’s license.

In 1947, he sold the milk route and purchased his father-in-law’s farm. During that summer, the couple was blessed with their first daugher, Marie Louise.

In 1949, they purchased a second dairy farm. “We each took care of a farm,” Hanna explained.

She milked the cows, operated all the equipment and machinery and worked in the fields, all the while taking care of the family. Bernie proudly boasts how she made the best “farm wife.”

Bernie and Hanna proudly welcomed their second daughter, Lori, in 1955.

In 1962, they tragically lost Marie Louise, age 15; after a vehicle hit her while she was riding her bicycle.

The Marie Louise Chapel in Christie was built in 1964 by Herman Hediger Sr. and dedicated in her honor. While the chapel is not a place of worship, it’s often used for weddings, baptisms and other special events.

In 1966, after farming for 20 years, the couple sold the farms, built a new home and purchased a Dolly Madison home delivery milk route.

In 1990, they sold the milk route and retired.

Lori’s fondest memories growing up are watching her parents always working together.

“Not only did they help each other with daily farming chores, they cooked supper and cleaned up together,” Lori said. “While dad drove the milk routes, Mom tackled the bookwork.”

Other treasured memories include family time on the farm. Many times, Marie Louise could be found in her buggy on a hay wagon so she could ride along while Bernie and Hanna worked in the fields.

Their teamwork extended into their daily lives in every way. Bernie was an avid gardener, often tending several gardens at once. Together they would harvest the garden, then can or freeze the crop to be enjoyed throughout the year.

“One of the wonderful things about their marriage is they always work together,” Lori said.

While the couple worked hard, they laughed and played even harder. The first “apartment” they rented was a few rooms in an older couple’s home. They love to play around and wrestle.

“Our landlords often joked, ‘those kids are at again.’” Hanna said.

During their early farming years, Bernie and Hanna would often go out dancing with friends, followed by breakfast at a friend’s home. Hanna joked about how often they’d make it home just in time to milk the cows.

Throughout their years together, they continued to dance while always embracing their one rule - you dance the first and last dance together.

They enjoyed snowmobiling, bowling and many other fun activities. For over 50 years, they would gather once a month with other neighborhood couples for a rousing evening of Sheepshead.

Bernie and Hanna strongly believe the secret to their happiness and success over the past 70 years is simple - always work together side by side and support and help each other. They also believed in laughing, having fun and living life to the fullest.

They truly stood by each other’s side in good times and bad,” Lori reflects. Their love and devotion for each other triumphed during the difficult times. Along with the typical challenges in a marriage, they also suffered the loss of their teenage daughter and three other children, who were stillborn.

While still farming, Bernie stepped up and devoted his time to nursing his wife back to health after hip replacement surgery, along with taking the added responsibility of caring for their daughter and the home. He also assisted Hanna with physical therapy, exercises and general health care.

“He got pretty good at putting on surgical stockings and shaving mom’s legs,” Lori chuckled.

Until just recently, Bernie and Hanna were active members of several clubs and organizations. Hanna was a member of the Happy Homemakers Club for about 50 years, while Bernie proudly served as a member of the Neillsville Lions Club for over 40 years. Throughout their entire marriage, they have been members of the United Church of Christ, Neillsville.

After much discussion and with great emotion, the couple sold their home in 2013 and said farewell to many friends. They relocated to DePere to be closer to Lori, her husband, Ken, and their two children.

Lori is able to watch over and care for them. They take every opportunity to enjoy their grandchildren.

Bernie’s secret to a lasting marriage, “keep your mouth shut when you are wrong.”

Their life together has been filled with happiness, sadness, challenges, adventures, memories and most of all - love.

Bernie and Hanna Opelt strike a pose with the family. Many family members and friends gathered for a 70th anniversary party April 30 at the Neillsville American Legion. (Contributed photo)




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