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Couple mark 77 years of love, listening

There's nothing remarkable about the first chapter in the love story of Clarence and Luella Kier.

Clarence Willard Kier was 18 when he went to visit his aunt's farm in West Branch, Mich., where Luella Amelia Prentice got milk from his uncle's cow. She was 19.

The night before Clarence arrived, Luella went on a dreadful date with his cousin. Clarence's aunt suggested Luella might like Clarence better. So, he took her to a show and bought her 10 cents worth of candy.

The date wasn't particularly unusual. But the date of their first date is: November 1916. A year and a half later, the couple were married.

Come Tuesday, that was 77 years ago.

The Kiers' only child, Prentice, threw a party Sunday afternoon at Windsor Woods Retirement Community to honor his parents' anniversary. About 140 residents toasted Luella, 98, and Clarence, 97, to the music of harpist Sue Jeffers. After dinner, everyone drank punch and ate wedding cake.

In 1918, the automatic toaster was invented. Woodrow Wilson was still president, and more than 1 million U.S. troops were in Europe fighting World War I. Daylight Savings Time was introduced. A gallon of gas cost 9 cents, a new house, $4,900.

Times have certainly changed, but what was true in 1918 still holds true in 1995: Luella and Clarence just like being together.

Sitting in the main dining room before the party Sunday afternoon, the couple laughed at the old times and smiled warmly at each other. They never expected their marriage to last 77 years, they say, because they never imagined they'd live this long.

The life expectancy in 1920, after all, was only about 54 years.

The night of the Kiers' first date, Clarence recalled that he wasn't even dressed well because he had brought only hunting clothes from his home in Ortonville, Mich. When they said good night in the stairwell, they kissed for the first time. It might not have been love at first sight, but it certainly was love that lasted.

Luella remembered Sunday afternoon that Clarence was different from other young men she had dated because he was a gentleman.

"We lived 125 miles apart, so I didn't see her very often," Clarence said.

They wrote letters for seven months until they met again in June 1917 at Luella's high school graduation. They were married in the Kier family farm house on Perryville Road west of Ortonville. That house, where the Kiers lived for two years, is no longer standing.

"He didn't smoke, he didn't drink. He was a family man," Luella said. "He seemed to like all the things I liked to do."

In 1920, they bought a house in Ortonville where they lived until 1985 when they moved to an apartment. In 1988, they moved to Florida after spending winters here.

In between her teaching and his work at General Motors, the couple loved to travel all over the United States and to Canada. Luella said their trips made up for not taking a honeymoon.

Except for working every day, the couple has spent all their time together for 77 years, often fishing, gardening and playing cards. In their prime, they also loved to dance.

Both were active in the small town's social life. Clarence was master of the Masonic Lodge, and Luella joined Eastern Star in 1922.

Luella retired from teaching in 1959; Clarence retired from GM's Pontiac Motor Division in 1962.

Since moving to Windsor Woods in September, Luella and Clarence still have lots of friends and regularly attend music programs and community meetings. Of course, there's still time for pinochle and bridge. Prentice Kier and his wife of 55 years, Carol, also live in Windsor Woods.

Luella said their secret to a long-lasting marriage is simple: to give and take, and to enjoy each other's company. Over the years, Clarence said, they have never had great differences but learned to listen when they disagreed.

Looking back, Luella says Clarence's "overall intelligence" is what she loves most. For Clarence, it's Luella's ambition. Whatever it is, the love is still strong. The couple renewed their vows at their 65th anniversary.

"I'm in awe," said Pat Wiggins, activities director for Windsor Woods who helped plan the party. "They're both very spunky _ they're comical. They kid around a lot."

Prentice Kier said he thinks couples today tend to give up easier than they used to. Back when his parents got married, Kier said, couples planned to stay together and work out problems if they came up.

Mona Delz, who knows both generations of the Kiers, said Luella and Clarence show what every couple should do: Communicate and keep moving.