Keys to a long relationship? Check, check and check for Nevada County couple |

Keys to a long relationship? Check, check and check for Nevada County couple

Mary Lemmons was just 17 and a junior at Alameda High School when she went out for a soda and ran into friends.

They were looking for a date for their friend, 19-year-old Wally Krill. They didn’t care much for his current girlfriend. The famous jazz drummer and band leader Gene Krupa was playing at Playland at the Beach in San Francisco and the whole gang was going. It was a big deal.

Mary went, and before long she and Wally were going steady. Wally couldn’t afford a car, so when they went on dates, they took the bus.

But friends warned her, saying, “That Wally Krill — he’s fast.”

But Mary found him to be a fun and intelligent person, an all-around good guy.

“I guess I was a big talker,” said Wally, with a laugh. “But the truth was — even though I was only 19— I was ready to marry and have a family. I knew Mary was the one I wanted to be with. And how many girls would agree to take the bus on a date?”

Despite his young age, Wally had already served in the Navy, worked as a longshoreman, fought forest fires, washed dishes and more. After spending most of his childhood with his grandparents in Nevada City, when the mines closed the family moved to Alameda, where Wally worked two jobs all the way through high school. He craved the stability of home and family.

A year after that first date, on May 2, 1948, 18-year old Mary and 20-year old Wally were married. They borrowed a car for their honeymoon and drove up to the National Hotel in Nevada City. Wally had fond childhood memories of the foothills and dreamed of someday moving back. Mary thought he was crazy.

On May 2 of this year, the Krills, who did eventually move to Nevada City in 1969, celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary surrounded by their three children, eight grandchildren and nine great grand children.

“We’re prolific if nothing else,” chuckled Wally.

But in looking closer at the happy marriage that has spanned more than seven decades, it’s clear there’s more to the story. In looking at research done on happy marriages, the Krills seem to have hit every mark.


In a 2012 study, UCLA psychologists analyzed 172 married couples and found that couples who were both willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the marriage were “significantly more likely to have lasting and happy marriages.” Research suggests that one should “choose carefully and wisely, and even then, don’t expect it to be easy.”

“You have to have that commitment to stay together,” said Mary. “We made an agreement to never go to sleep mad.”

“The light was not turned out until the issue was resolved,” echoed Wally. “If you lose your temper, you’ve already lost the argument — you run the risk of saying something hurtful that is hard to take back.”

Research also implied that success is rooted in forgiving the behavior of a spouse, and not demanding that he or she change.

“It’s important to accept the person — you’re not going to change them,” said Mary. “Some younger people we know who have gotten divorced tell us they regret not trying harder to make it work. It does take work sometimes, but we’ve always respected each other. Wally has always built me up.”

Another key component to a successful marriage is creating shared experiences, which lead to shared memories. Over the course of 30 years, the Krills managed to travel on their tandem bicycle up and down the east and west coasts of the U.S., through the European countries of England, Scotland, France, Germany, Belgium, Austria and Greece. They also cycled through the north and south islands of New Zealand.

“Each trip was about 1,000 miles over the course of about three to four weeks,” said Wally. “Those trips have given us both a lifetime of memories. It’s important to have things to do together.”

“Sometimes people would shout out, ‘She’s not pedaling!’” joked Mary.

One final key to a happy marriage, say experts, is sharing emotions. While Mary has always called Wally a “hopeless romantic,” Wally said he’s become more expressive with age.

“To my Mary — the most beautiful girl in the world,” wrote Wally in a tribute to Mary on their anniversary. “Here’s to my real life support … I love you beyond measure.”

“A friend recently called me a sentimental old coot,” said Wally. “But one advantage of outliving other people is you get to the point in life where you realize how important it is to tell people how much they matter to you. I don’t want any regrets. Maybe that’s corny, but that’s the way I feel.”

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at

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