Nevada County People: Penn Valley couple celebrate 70 years of wedded bliss |

Nevada County People: Penn Valley couple celebrate 70 years of wedded bliss

Seventy-two years ago, Gwendolin Mills met Lon Van Sant on a train to Chicago, where they were attending the national 4-H conference.

He was charmed by her personality and her smartness and she by his looks and the way he carried himself. The two connected after a gradual introduction and got married a couple of years later in Tombstone, Ariz. – the venue of the closest Protestant Church from where they lived in Elfrida and Glendale.

Seven decades have passed since then, but their love has endured.

On Sunday, June 8, the Van Sants – now residents of Penn Valley – will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary at a picnic at Western Gateway Park.

“It seems it hasn’t been very long – only 70 years,” said Lon Van Sant, 91, with laughter in his voice. “We’ve had a good life. I’m proud of what we’ve done with our lives, proud of my wife and family.”

“Gwen” Van Sant, 90, called her 70 years of marriage “quite an achievement.”

“Nowadays, you don’t even start with the idea of staying married,” she said. “In olden days, we started with the idea that you were supposed to make it work.”

Gwen Van Sant lauded her husband for being “a family man who helped raise the kids.”

“He’s been a big support,” she said. “He raised us all to be independent – me included.”

Gwen Van Sant fondly recalled the time when she was a home economics and design student at the University of Arizona in Tucson and her fiancé lived in Glendale, Ariz., working as a farmer.

“He’d come down to visit me at least every two weeks and we’d go flying, bicycling, horseback-riding and movies,” she said. “He was very good at courtship.”

Caroline Spurgeon, the youngest child of the Van Sants, attributed her parents’ successful marriage to “their common interests.”

“They are both very active and they keep their minds sharp,” she said. “They read a lot. They’ve traveled a lot and have common interests like fishing.”

Longevity apparently runs on both sides of the family, Spurgeon said. Gwen Van Sant’s parents were both centenarians and were married for 76 years, Spurgeon said.

“On my dad’s side everybody seems to live into their 90s,” she added.

Lon Van Sant said he was expecting between 50 and 75 guests at his anniversary celebration Sunday. Attendees will include his three children – Clarence Van Sant, 68, Arthur Van Sant, 64 and Spurgeon, 61 – eight grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, he said.

To contact Soumitro Sen, e-mail or call 477-4229.

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