One of the earliest memories Puyallup resident Norm Russell has of his wife, Doris, has to do with a garter snake they found at a church summer camp when they were 15 years old.
At the couple’s home at the Silver Creek Retirement and Assisted Living Community on South Hill, Norm laughed as he remembered Doris approaching the snake when few others would.
“She was the only girl who would accept that garter snake,” Norm said.
Norm and Doris first met at church camp in Hillsdale, Michigan in the early 1940s. They didn’t know it then, but in a few short years they would marry.
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They would stay married for 71 years.
After two consecutive years attending their church camp every summer, Norm and Doris fostered a relationship. At the end of the year, camp members received autograph books with other members’ contact information. He never forgot about Doris, even after he was drafted into the Army Air Corps during World War II in 1943.
“When I was drafted, I went through the autograph book and I decided I’d reduce it to one person — it was her,” Norm said.
When I was drafted, I went through the autograph book and I decided I’d reduce it to one person — it was her.
After basic training in Florida, Norm was sent to school in Illinois to train with heavy equipment. On the weekends, he was allowed to travel, and he used the time to visit Doris in Elkhart, Indiana.
“That was the beginning of our courting,” Norm said.
Norm was sent to Guam during his service, and was one of the last to come home after the war. But he knew the first thing he wanted to do when he got back: propose to Doris.
At the time, Doris was working in a factory that produced small machine parts for the war effort. Norm wrote to her in letters, telling her his plan to marry her.
“He says, ‘We’re getting married,’ and I said, ‘I’m not getting married, you have to go to college and I have a job,’” Doris joked.
But when Norm proposed to Doris at that same campground in Michigan, she agreed. They had about ten days to plan, said Doris, and they ended up marrying at a small wedding on March 9, 1946.
Norm and Doris Russell were married March 9, 1946.
Afterward, Norm finished college and the couple spent two years traveling to other cities in the country to work at churches. Norm worked as a pastor while Doris helped him. In the meantime, they also had two sons.
In 1966, their journey brought them to — what was then — a small city named Lake Havasu, Arizona. At the time they moved, the city had around 1,000 people, and there wasn’t a church. The Russells had moved there to build one. While they were there, they both became involved in the education system. Doris managed the school’s office while Norm became a teacher. Eventually, he became a principal.
“The Lord opened up the door for me to side step into education, so I did,” Norm said.
“He liked the kids, and being in the classroom,” Doris added.
In 1983, they both left the education system but started in the gem and mineral business, making and selling jewelry. They retired — officially, said Norm — in 1995, but are current members of the Puyallup Valley Gem & Mineral Club.
In 2015, the Russells moved to Puyallup to be closer to their son. They have five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, with a sixth on the way.
Now both in their early 90s, Norm and Doris have a history of memories spanning decades. Wherever they go together, they often hold hands, and say expressing their love for each other is part of the secret to a long, happy marriage.
“A lot of people you never see kiss or touch each other,” Doris said. “(Norm’s) very loving. He hardly ever leaves this apartment without giving me a kiss.”
(Norm’s) very loving. He hardly ever leaves this apartment without giving me a kiss.
They get into arguments on occasion, said Doris, but the trick is to never go to bed upset with each other.
“We’ve had problems. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t,” Doris said. “If you have a dispute, settle it before you go to sleep.”
“It’s a give and take,” said Norm.
Having met at church camp and worked in churches for years, faith is another big presence in Norm and Doris’ relationship. They pray together every morning after breakfast and every night before bed.
“People that pray together, stay together,” Doris quipped.
“I think it’s God’s desire for us to be together,” Norm added. “We’d be lost without each other.”