75 years and counting of love and marriage | TheUnion.com

75 years and counting of love and marriage

Photo for The Union by Cory Fisher

Lon Van Sant says the best day of his life was when he walked into a Phoenix train depot and saw a beautiful girl waiting for the train. The year was 1936. As it turned out, they both had won state awards from the 4-H Club, and their prizes included a trip to the organization’s national convention in Chicago. Eighteen-year-old Gwen Mills won for “best evening gown” in the state of Arizona, and Lon, 19, was deemed “all-around farmer.”

The two hit if off immediately.

“We kind of paired off and went everywhere together in Chicago,” said Gwen, who was a freshman in college at the time. “After we got home, Lon kept sending me candy and flowers — he lived about two hours away, but he had a car, so he just kept courting me. I was already engaged to someone else, but I had to break it off. He kept pursuing me, and I finally let him catch me.”

Lon was a lot more mature than the other boys, added Gwen, as he was already a successful farmer and had been winning medals for his cattle since the age of 8.

On June 11, 1938, Lon and Gwen were married in Tombstone, Ariz. This Saturday, the Penn Valley couple will be celebrating their 75th anniversary with their extended family, including their three children, eight grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.

“It always throws me off when I hear the children call my son ‘Grandpa,’” said Gwen with a laugh. “But I guess it makes sense — he’s 73.”

Lon, now 96, says Gwen was exactly the right partner to go through life with.

“She was the most perfect woman a man could have — the good Lord must have had a hand in it,” he said. “I always tell her I love her every night and every morning. The more years I spend with her, the more I love her.”

Throughout life’s ups and downs — such as several serious illnesses and a new house burning down — the couple always looked on the bright side, said Gwen.

“We both have a sense of humor — that helps a lot,” she said. “Over the years, I’ve taken good care of him, and he’s taken good care of me.”

When Gwen first got married, her mother told her she could visit any time — unless she’d had a fight with Lon. In that case, she’d have to stay home and work it out.

After leaving Arizona, the Van Sants eventually settled in Maxwell, Calif., where they raised their children and ran a large cattle ranch for 54 years. They moved to Penn Valley in 2004. In addition to the demands of ranch life, their years in Maxwell were spent serving the community, said their daughter, Caroline Spurgeon.

Lon served on the local and county school boards and was active in the Cattleman’s Association. He was also master of the Masonic Lodge in Maxwell six separate times. He was well-known for his prize-winning herd of registered shorthorn cattle and grew rice and alfalfa.

Gwen was active in the PTA and worked as deputy to the Colusa County superintendent of schools until her retirement in 1979.

Both were active in 4-H, Future Farmers of America, and the house was always busy with their children and their friends, said Lon. Their retirement years have been filled with fishing and trips to Jamaica, Guatemala, Hawaii, Mexico, Canada and elsewhere.

“They spent 30 years traveling around the country in their RV, escaping the summer heat and the winter damp,” said Spurgeon. “They consider themselves blessed with family, friends and a love that has endured for 75 years.”

Gwen attributes their long lives to good genes, healthy living and a sense of humor.

“But these days, we’ve been doing a lot of snacking,” she said with a snicker. “Pie for breakfast? Why not? Why shouldn’t we have what we want at our age?”

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at cfisher@theunion.com or call 530-477-4203.

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