Who parties hearty after 15 years of marriage? The little brother, of course

Last Updated by Kevin Woster on
Next stop 20 years, unless we party again at 16

I’m guessing my brothers and sisters thought the anniversary bash was, well, kind of cute.

July 8th was the 15th for Mary and me, and kind of a big deal around our house.

Not so big for my sister, Jeanne, who has been married to her Chamberlain High School sweetheart, Ray, for soon-to-be 53 years.

It’s 51 for my brother, Jim, and his wife, Penny; 50 for my brother, Terry, and his wife, Nancy; 49 for my sister, Mary Alice, and her husband, Ken.

Meanwhile, I'm all charged up over a decade and a half. But in my own defense, I’m the youngest of the five, so I don’t have quite so many years to work with just yet.

 And also, I’ve actually been married for 27 years, just not in a row or to the same woman.

And I think I got lucky, twice.

That’s because I consider my 12 years of marriage to Jaciel to have been a blessing, one that produced two highly lovable children, Casey and Meghan,  their highly lovable spouses and three extraordinarily lovable grandchildren, so far.

It also produced, after an excruciating separation and divorce, a process of healing and relationship reconstruction with a woman I still love, now in a different way. For that, I am grateful every day.

But that’s not all. I was blessed during the 12 years I was single between marriages to be in a 10-year-relationship with a wonderful woman who, like me, focused on her two kids first and other things, including adult relationships, second.

I think that approach was good for our four kids, who became good friends even through they never became part of one family. And while I can’t speak for her, I know those 10 years were good for me. So I guess I got lucky, three times.

And after that relationship ended, I wasn’t exactly interested in the dating scene or anxious to find another marriage partner. I had two great kids, after all, a supportive family and a good job that inspired me and worked me hard. I was beginning to think I wasn’t meant to marry again at all.

My buddy Bernie Duffy, Jr., had similar feelings about my future when he suggested “Hey, you should go to the seminary. I think you’d make a really great cranky priest.”

And I think I had potential for that, at least in the cranky area. The actual process leading to ordination might have been something else.

But I was growing increasingly comfortable with the idea of staying single, perhaps for the rest of my life.

That was before that day in November of 2000, when I walked into the Rapid City Journal newsroom to see old friends and colleagues. One of them was Mary Garrigan, a grown-up Highmore girl whose dad, Red, ran Garrigan Chevrolet during the years when my pals and I were cruising central South Dakota in search of good used cars.

I didn’t know Mary back then. And that was good, since I’m seven years older than she is. Had I shown interest in the sixth of Red and Shirley Garrigan’s 10 kids back in about 1970, Shirley might have boxed my ears, or reported me to the police.

But 30 years later, the seven-year-age difference wasn’t much cause for concern.

By then I was living in Sioux Falls and working for the Argus Leader. I drove to Rapid City to watch my daughter, Meghan, play with the O’Gorman Knights in the state Class AA Girls Basketball Tournament, back when girls basketball was still played in the fall in South Dakota.

Killing time between games included a trip to the Journal to check in with old pals. I had worked as the Journal’s Capital Bureau reporter in Pierre from August of 1988 to August of 1992. Mary was a copy editor for the Journal during that time, so we knew each other through the news stories and columns that I wrote and she edited.

But we had known each other much longer than that. She was a young married journalism major and new reporter for the SDSU Collegian back in 1978,  when I was a back-for-the-third time non-traditional J-school student, and editor of the Collegian.

I knew her husband, Pat Duffy, there in Brookings, too. Although soon I left the editor’s job at the Collegian, classes at SDSU and my full-time job with the Brookings Register to accompany Jaciel to Pierre, where she took a reporter’s job with UPI in the Capitol. Later that year, I went to work for the Argus, for the first time.

About the time Jay and I were leaving Brookings, Mary and Pat were having their first child, Padraic, who is now my stepson,  father to three of the 15 (soon to be 16) grandchildren Mary and I share and a news producer at KEVN TV here in Rapid City.

Mary says if she looked hard enough, she could find the old card from Collegian staffers, including my signature, celebrating Padraic’s birth.

That’s how things work in South Dakota,  where questions like “Hey, do you know a guy named ….” are often answered by “Yeah, he’s my cousin.”

Over a couple of decades after SDSU, Mary and I worked together at the Argus Leader for a time and knew each other casually as she found other news jobs. I made it a point to follow her writing, watching her develop into an experience reporter with a deft writing touch.

I knew Pat better during those years, though, because he was a newsmaker as a lawyer involved in high-profile cases. I also got to know Pat’s brother, Bernie, when he and I were both in Pierre adjusting to the hard parts of life after divorce.

Later, I became godfather to one of Bernie’s sons from a second marriage. Small states. Aren’t they great?

So by the time in November of 2000 when I strolled into the Journal newsroom, where Mary was working at a features reporter, I knew that she and Pat had divorced. She and I commiserated about the difficulties of divorce briefly that day in the newsroom, and later by emails.

A little more than two months after that, when I was in Rapid City covering several stories for the Argus, Mary and I had our first date. It was a based on a simple, delicious meal of home-cooked beef from her cousins on the Pekarek ranch  back in Hyde County, eaten at the dining room table where she and Pat had shared so many meals with their growing family and she and I have shared so many since.

Five months after sharing Pekarek beef, Mary and I drove from east and west to meet at Reliance at the home of my cousin, Red McManus, and his wife, Ruth Ann. Mary left her car there and rode north with me on Highway 47 to Medicine Butte, a few miles from the farm where I grew up.

 We were on our way to Highmore for the annual Old Settlers Days celebration. But before we left the top of the butte, I proposed. And after gazing off toward the cumulous-clustered horizon for a fair period of consideration, she smiled and said “yes.”

A year and a month later, July 8, 2002, we were married here in Rapid City by my cousin, Monsignor Michael Woster, whose father, Frank, was the brother and farm partner of my father, Henry.  We exchanged vows during the regular 5:30 p.m. daily Mass on a Tuesday in the Ladies Chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral, where Mike was pastor.

Mary wanted our wedding to be part of a regular daily Mass, rather than the reason for one on the weekend. That meant that along with  the relatively small group of invited friends and family -- space in the chapel does have its limits --  our wedding was shared by acquaintances and complete strangers who happened to be at Mass.

And people we barely know will still sometimes see us and say, “Hey, I was at your wedding!” I like that. So does Mary.

They paid the prices for being there, and not just because the normally brief daily Mass of 30 minutes or so was stretched a bit longer. The air-conditioning system originally scheduled to be up and running weeks before the wedding was still not functioning that day.

So it was about 100 degrees outside and at least that hot, it seemed, in the chapel. We followed Mass with a bash in our backyard, where local musician and former Red Willow Band member Hank Harris entertained.

Well, he entertained until the pounding rain and lightning hit. Later, we would take credit for ending the 2002 drought.

We brought Harris back for our 10-year anniversary party, and filled the backyard with friends and family again — without the storm. Cousin Mike was there to bless the marriage he had celebrated a decade earlier. And at that point, we didn’t plan on throwing a big party on our 15th.

But a lot has happened in the last five years, including our unhappy departure from reporting jobs at the Rapid City Journal and, more importantly, the deaths of people in our age group who mattered a lot to us: my cousin, Red, my cousin, Tom Woster, Mary's best friend from childhood, Robin, our good friend and Rapid City Journal colleague, Andrea Cook, and my friend and Mary’s first husband, Pat Duffy.

The here-today, gone-tomorrow realities of life near or beyond the retirement age made celebrating every five years seem like a pretty good idea. We set the party for July 9, to avoid conflict with a well-established neighborhood ice-cream social on Saturday, but did attend the 5:30 Mass at Cathedral — this time in the main chapel, since it was a weekend Mass.

Then last night we had our 15-year bash, with more than 50 adults and kids trying to stay cool in 100-plus-degree heat. Another priestly commitment kept cousin Mike from joining us. But he’ll get a chance to renew his blessing of our wedding this Friday, when the Woster family gathers for our annual reunion at the Thunderstik hunting lodge above the Missouri River south of Chamberlain.

We’ll make our usual sojourn to St. Mary’s Cemetery at Reliance, where Woster and McManus kin are buried. And I’ll try to talk Mary into joining me on an anniversary trip to Medicine Butte for a ceremonial re-asking of the big question.

That butte trip might or might not happen. It’s forecast to be 100 degrees this weekend, after all.

 And I'm guessing the whole here-today, gone-tomorrow thing has its limit -- probably at about 90 degrees.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of SDPB, Friends of South Dakota Public Broadcasting, or the State of South Dakota.