Earl graduated from Harrison Township High School in 1950 and joined the Army, spending a couple of years in Korea. After his discharge, he returned home and enrolled at Ball State. With plans to pursue both farming and a teaching career, he was intently focused on his studies, but everything changed the night he attended his high school’s alumni banquet.
“Gretchen was there,” he said, “and I realized that while I was gone, something happened to her!”
The story gave both Earl and Gretchen a hearty chuckle. It’s one of their favorites and one they’ve likely told countless times over their 61 years of marriage.
As a result of the happy, happenstance meet-up, Earl took a chance and invited Gretchen to go with him to Riverside Amusement Park in Indianapolis.
“And darn it,” he said, “she agreed. After that, I asked her to go to a movie.”
And after that? Well, it still took them some time to figure things out. Earl was already dating a girl from Muncie, and Gretchen had a guy she was going out with pretty regularly. So, while neither Earl nor Gretchen saw an immediate need to change their dating habits, they did make room on their social calendars to spend as much quality time as possible with one another.
It was a plan that eventually led them to make a life-changing decision.
“After a while,” Earl said, “I finally dropped the other girl and went with Gretchen full time.”
It was his way of proving she was just his “type.”
“Part of it,” Gretchen said, “he was going to Ball State, and I was typing all his school papers.”
Earl grins and admits, “I found out she could type and …”
Gretchen looks at Earl and jumps in to finish her husband’s statement. “We just kind of grew on each other.”
“She finally asked me to marry her,” he said, interrupting her interruption.
“No I didn’t,” she protested. “But I’m not even sure how he asked me.”
Their marriage took place on Saturday, July 6, 1957, at the Antioch Church of the Brethen in Muncie.
“It was hot,” Gretchen said, recalling their special day. “No air-conditioning in the church.”
After the new Mr. and Mrs. Watson cooled off during their Niagara Falls honeymoon, they returned to Indiana and embarked on their life together – a life that’s been rewarding and happy, they both will say.
In 1963, Earl went to work at Elwood’s Mid-Central Area Vocational School (renamed the John H. Hinds Vocational Center in 1968), where he taught industrial arts and vocational building trades and later became its director. For at least a third of those years, Gretchen worked with Earl, serving as the school’s treasurer. During Earl’s tenure, his students built an estimated 25 houses throughout Elwood, and thousands of adults attended his night classes.
Retiring in 1994, the Watsons took to the road in their Winnebago and toured every state in the contiguous United States and Alaska.
“We never made Hawaii,” Earl said, “… yet.”
Through every one of those 49 states, Gretchen sat beside her husband, acting as his co-pilot and recording memories in her journal.
“She’s got a pretty good diary,” he said.
Modestly accepting the “Most Romantic Couple” title bestowed on them by the Chamber, the Watsons take a moment to gather their thoughts when they are asked to reveal their secret for a successful marriage.
“We respect one another’s thoughts and desires,” Earl says; and Gretchen jumps in, adding, “He’s just easy to get along with.”
Now that the conversation has turned to secrets, Gretchen is asked to talk about the most romantic thing Earl has ever done for her.
“Well,” she says, “he’s not one to bring home flowers. He was just always there … and dependable. He’s easy to get along with most of the time … although he can have a stubborn streak.”
When the same question is posed to Earl, his answer is immediate and resolute.
“She’s given me four wonderful kids.”
Those kids include daughters Susan Smith and Trish Carmer, and sons Larry and Don Watson. They also have three grandchildren.
Upon hearing about the honor bestowed upon her “most romantic” parents, the Watsons’ daughter Susan wanted to weigh in.
“My parents make a good team,” she said. “They are faithful Christians, honest, hard workers, family-centered, and giving. Their happiness comes from recognizing their blessings.”
In addition, their granddaughter Shelly Smith also added, “My grandparents have accomplished so much together in their 60 years of marriage. They have raised four kids, traveled, been involved with the community, and are very active in their church. They have a large circle of friends and that is a testament to their character. But despite all they have done for others, they have kept their family and their marriage a priority.”
It’s been a long time since Earl and Gretchen took that first spin on the roller coaster at Riverside Park. And just like that ride, they have experienced their ups and downs, dizzying turns, and an array of jolting stops and starts. But always, without fail, they’ve made it back to the station more invigorated and excited about the next adventure awaiting them on the midway.
And that, it seems, is a secret to happiness that everyone should discover. ●