Stow sweethearts celebrate 70 years of marriage. And it all started Valentine's Day 1949 with some candy hearts

Krista S. Kano
Akron Beacon Journal
Barbara and John Zohn hold a photograph from their 1951 wedding. The Stow couple, who started dating at North High School in 1949, will celebrate 70 years of marriage on March 1.

In 1949, a North High School cheerleader gave Valentine's Day candy hearts to the student manager of the boys basketball team.

He walked her home that night, eventually gave her his class pin and within two years the young couple was married, though they can't quite recall how they became engaged. 

"Did I ask you?" John Zohn, 88, said recently to his wife, Barbara (nee Haynes), 89. "It just got to where we were going steady so why not? After two years nothing was going to change, and we knew how we felt about each other."

While they may not remember how it started, they certainly know how it's ended up. Four children, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren later, the Zohns are still together and will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary on March 1. 

They insist the milestone is "nothing spectacular," but their eldest daughter, Christine Freeland, 69, disagrees.

"For both to live that long and to stay married, it just doesn't happen," Freeland said.

While the Zohns will soon be married for 70 years, they've been together for 72, ever since Barbara gave those candy hearts to John.

"I started it," she said.

At the time, she was a senior.

"I just thought he was cute," she recalled.

John, meanwhile, was a junior who was attracted to her personality and dark hair. Plus, he said, "she was a cheerleader, which attracts most men." 

The two continued to date after Barbara graduated from high school and went to stenography school. John was heavily involved in planning school dances, and Barbara returned for those events.

Shortly after John graduated, they were married on a rainy day at North Hill Presbyterian Church, which Barbara attended as a child. She was 19 and he was 18. 

The reception was at her parents' house on Annapolis Avenue, and they spent a two-day honeymoon at the Cleveland Hotel in the Terminal Tower. 

Two years into their marriage, they had their first daughter, Christine, at their third-floor apartment on Portage Trail. They eventually moved to Stow, where they raised Christine and their other three children, Marjie, John Jr. and Steve. 

"We lived in my mom and dad's house while we were building in Stow. John's stepdad gave us a lot. He was a Hibbard so we moved there," Barbara said. 

Barbara was a stay-at-home mother, while John was a plumber. The two would leave the children with grandparents for romantic vacations, Freeland said. 

When the children were older, Barbara started focusing on art. She learned under Jack Richard, the late Cuyahoga Falls oil painter, but found her passion in watercolors.

Barbara Zohn in her home studio in Stow. Barbara and her husband John Zohn will celebrate 70 years of marriage on March 1 and she says her husband has always supported her painting.

"We used to do all the outdoor shows all summer long, just about every weekend. Hudson's Art on the Green, all over Lakewood and Clifton. For years, that's what we did," John said. 

Though the art show circuit became too cumbersome in later years, the Zohns continue to find activities to share, like having a popcorn and movie night every Thursday.

"I make the popcorn. She doesn't like to microwave packets because it has chemicals so we buy her the old-fashioned kind," John said.

"It's quite a ritual for him," Barbara added.

John also makes her coffee every morning just how she likes it: with a little cream and no sugar. 

"My dad dotes on my mom. Always has," Freeland said. 

"They had some rough spots, but they always stuck together," their second-oldest child, Marjie Wilkins, said. "This is odd, but I grew up thinking people got married and lived happily ever after. I didn't know there were problems in marriages because they always got along. People do stay together no matter what and work it out. It's nice to see that it does happen."

Barbara and John say the real key to their marriage has always been a sense of humor, listening skills, cooperation, accepting each other's quirks and patience. 

"Lots of patience," Barbara said. 

Reporter Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, or on Twitter @KristaKanoABJ.