Milton and Anna Mae Van Drunen cherish each other and family
by Carrie Steinweg
LANSING, Ill. (October 2018) – Milton Van Drunen had recently returned home from serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. It was 1946, and he was 21. After three years of serving his country, he was looking to settle down, so he asked around among his friends to find out who was available. Within the tight-knit Dutch community in and around Lansing, friends were happy to play Cupid. That’s how Milton met Anna Mae Huizinga.
“My cousin told him that I was nice and unattached at 19,” said Anna Mae. “He came to my door, and we had our introduction on a Sunday night and then our first date on Monday,” she said. That led to an ongoing courtship that resulted in an October 15, 1948, wedding at First Christian Reformed Church in Lansing (now New Hope Church). She was 21, and he was 23. Now at age 91 and 93 they are more in love than ever and grateful for the family that God has given them.
Some of the details are fuzzy after 70-plus years, but they remember that the first date was at Orchestra Hall. It was a choral concert presented by Chicago Christian School, the school that Anna Mae had attended.
Anna Mae grew up in Munster and recalls taking an hour-long bus ride each day to get to Chicago Christian School in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. There were not yet expressways to speed up the trip. Milton lived in Lansing and graduated from Thornton Fractional High School in Calumet City in 1943. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy, and the Monday following graduation he was inducted into the military where he spent significant time serving in the South Pacific.
What were Anna Mae’s first thoughts on this stranger showing up at her door? “He looked good,” she said. “He was really cute!” She was the oldest girl in a family of four boys and four girls. Her siblings could be known to play little tricks on Milton, who was very quiet.
It was a pleasant fall day when the families gathered at the church for the wedding of Milton and Anna Mae. Anna Mae’s older brother, who was 27 and had just become an ordained minister, officiated the ceremony. A younger brother was a soloist. Her other siblings and Milt’s sisters were part of the wedding party.
The reception was held in the basement of Lansing Christian School where the Mother’s Club prepared a chicken dinner. The photographer was a mailman, recommended by her brother, who was venturing out and starting a new business and did the job for $25. “He did really good work, and after that he got a lot of business when other people saw the pictures,” said Anna Mae. She proudly showed the black and white 8 X 10s that documented the day, each one behind aging cellophane that you can tell has been flipped through on many occasions.
After high school Anna Mae was employed in the IBM department at Inland Steel where time cards were processed. Instead of rice, guests threw punch holes from the time cards. Milton recalled that he was making $1.60 an hour at the time, working as a layout man at Bates Expanded Steel in East Chicago. Anna Mae was earning $1.65 an hour at Inland Steel.
Their first home was a small apartment in a Hammond basement. Housing was scarce with all the GIs returning home and starting families and it was hard to find a place to live. They later moved to a new home on Escanaba Avenue in Lansing. “The home building business was booming,” said Milton. “We didn’t have a phone at first and were on a waiting list to get a telephone.” The couple then moved to their current home in Lansing where they’ve resided for 60 years. Milton spent a long career as a roofer, and Anna Mae left her job at Inland Steel to raise her family.
When asked about their best memories of a seven-decade marriage, both agree that the most cherished times have not been intimate moments alone, but the times where they’ve been able to enjoy their family. The couple had 5 children, 18 grandchildren, and (so far) 39 great-grandchildren. When you add them all up, along with spouses, the family they have created totals 85. They have fond memories of summers spent at cabins up north and of watching children and grandchildren play sports. Anna Mae lost count after 70 family graduations. They’ve traveled all over the country to witness achievements and attend weddings and baptisms.
For their 65th anniversary, the Van Drunens had a huge celebration, but the 70th was a little more low-key. The couple celebrated with a dinner with their kids, but they will see the grandchildren and great-grandchildren at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The gatherings have become so large that they have outgrown family homes and now host holiday gatherings in the church basement or school gym.
According to the Van Drunens, there isn’t an elusive secret to a successful marriage, but rather it’s pretty simple: You’re there for one another, and you rely on one another. “If you go, I’ll go,” is their usual response to one another when not both parties are enthusiastic about going somewhere.
Anna Mae says she married the right man. Milton says he married a good cook. And they start each day together with prayer.