LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Sixty years have passed since Lester and Betty Breeding got married, and they aren’t surprised.
“Marriage lasts when you are friends with somebody first,” Betty said. “We were not strangers to each other. We were friends, shared the same faith, and were both from a small town.”
Lester’s father was killed in a coal mining accident in Wheelwright, Ky., in 1946. Lester was a freshmen in high school at the time. His family moved to nearby McDowell, Ky., purchasing a small farm from Betty’s father.
“His family knew my uncle. My dad was a merchant; he owned a country store and when people had property for sale, they would sell it to him and he would turn around and sell it to others. In a sense, he was a real estate agent on the side.”
Betty could see the store from her family's house, as it was just across the street. Lester and his family shopped often at the country store. And when he came by, Betty quickly took notice.
“I’d sit on a swing on the front porch,” she said. “I saw him coming. He was so cute.”
The feeling was mutual.
“She was beautiful!” Lester said. “And I liked that she was smart. It didn’t bother me any.”
The trouble was Betty couldn’t date.
“My parents said I couldn’t go in a car on a date. But they liked him because he was a gentleman. They knew I liked him.”
Her parents allowed the two to attend Betty’s senior Prom together. Lester didn’t have a car at the time, so they weren’t really breaking the rules. They walked about half a mile to the prom.
They went on their first "official date” the weekend before Betty went to college.
“We sat in the living room with all the lights on,” she said. “There was no TV at the time, so we played phonograph records and talked.”
Betty was her high school valedictorian. She attended college at age 16, having graduated early.
While Betty was in college, Lester enrolled in the Air Force and spent one year in Korea.
“I didn’t stay in the military any longer than I had to, but I have no regrets,” he said. While serving in Korea, Lester worked on airplanes. He attended C97 school, but worked solely on B25s. He later transferred to statistical services, working on IBM machines.
The couple were married on Jan. 16, 1954, shortly after Lester left the service. She was 20 and he was 22. It was a small, church wedding, held at the First Baptist Church in McDowell.
“We paid for our wedding. I was the first in my family to have a church wedding,” Betty said.
Betty wore a white, wool dress and matching hat; and Lester wore a suit. He gave her a corsage made of white orchids. A friend from high school played the piano and there was special singing. The officiating pastor, Rev. Irvin Stanton, wouldn’t accept payment so the couple gave a donation to the church instead.
Lester was working with IBM/Delco Products in Dayton, Ohio at the time. Betty had already earned her bachelor’s degree at UK, and was a teacher in McDowell. Lester, too, wanted to earn his degree, so the couple decided to both attend Morehead State University – Lester earning both his bachelor’s and master's degrees and Betty, her master’s there.
“Morehead was known as a teacher’s college at that time, with a good training program,” Betty said.
They lived in the Vets village with other couples and families who were living on the GI Bill. They didn’t have much money, often buying groceries and goods from her father’s country store on credit.
“That was the first debt we paid after we graduated,” she said.
Lester also grew a garden, much like the one his mother had when he was younger.
“He grew corn, beans, potatoes. He had fruit trees and a grape arbor,” Betty remembered.
“I learned from my mom and dad. When you lived on a farm, you grew almost everything you ate,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed growing things.”
Upon their graduation, teachers were in high demand.
“There was a teacher scarcity then. You could go anywhere. But Kentucky paid so little, so we looked out of state,” Betty explained.
They moved where the jobs were, to Lincoln Park, Mich. He taught fifth and sixth grade math; she taught English and reading. Lester also served as a principal for 20 years.
Teachers didn’t get paid in the summer, so Lester found odd jobs to make ends meet. He worked in a steel mill in the summer, making much more than his teaching salary, but he always went back to his students.
“He was meant to be a teacher,” Betty said.
In November 1969, they had a son, Bradford Lester Breeding. Many of their friends didn’t think they would have children; they had been married for 16 years.
"It wasn't that we were waiting; it just hadn't happened," Betty stated.
“He is the pride of our lives,” said Lester of their son.
Although Betty’s mother had passed away just a year prior, she knew she was looking down on them from heaven, having prayed for the young couple to have a child for many years.
Lester and Betty retired at 57 and 55, respectively, and moved back to Kentucky. Life was good in Lexington, but Lester missed teaching.
“He didn’t like retirement,” Betty said with a laugh. “He thought we needed to be doing something.”
So they did. Lester was hired as the Coordinator for Teacher Admissions at Morehead State; and Betty taught remedial reading to adults for one semester at a community college in Lexington. Although Betty would eventually give up her “second job,” Lester stayed on at Morehead for six years, until he lost his hearing.
The couple moved to London in 2006 to be near their son, Brad, daughter-in-law Martha and grandchildren, Ford, 12, and Madden, 9.
“We first chose Lexington. We liked it there, but it made sense to be closer,” Betty said.
Now they attend Ford's basketball games, watch Madden dance, and exercise three times a week at First Baptist Recreation Center.
“We are so dearly blessed,” Betty said. "There are so many things we enjoy doing together."
“We’d take another 60 years together, if we could,” Lester said. “They are all good memories, the ones that I remember.”