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Lifelong love

Lifelong love

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After meeting on campus in the 1930s, couple celebrates 73rd wedding anniversary

Strictly speaking, America wasn’t yet in the war in late December 1940. In the months to come, conflicts at sea would become increasingly common, with German U-boats and destroyers sinking American vessels. And in less than a year, Pearl Harbor would end the United States’ official posture of neutrality.

Against that backdrop of unfolding history, Edwin Holt CB ’36-’38 and Helen Dreibelbis ’37-’39 made
a little history of their own. Standing in front of a Christmas tree in a small ceremony in the Dreibelbis’ family home in San Juan, Texas, they pledged to spend their lives together.

It was Christmas Day, 1940. The time, dryly notes the woman known for the past 73 years as Helen Holt, was high noon. The joke, running close to three-quarters of a century now, is Edwin Holt agreed to the date so he’d never forget his anniversary. So began a marriage in which the month Christmas falls in is made a bit of a big deal.

“December is always kind of a special time,” Helen Holt, 93, said in the living room of the house the pair of longtime educators has lived in since 1989. “We’re not so commercial. We like good smells from the kitchen, candy and cookies and such.”

On a morning when those very smells were coming from that very kitchen, they looked back on remarkable lives. Of growing up with almost nothing and earning advanced degrees, of moving from town to town for the next teaching job, of working for many years in Austin schools, of how hard things began and how grateful they are to still be around, in their own home.

Even their Pekingese, Lulu, is getting up there in age, 16 and blind, but alive.

Hotl copy<Edwin, to start, was born in Elkhart, in east Texas. His father died in a cotton gin accident when he was very young, and his mother died when he was 10, leaving seven children, four of whom—including him—were sent to a Methodist orphanage in Waco.

He eventually enrolled at Mary Hardin-Baylor College, which by the 1920s had begun to allow a number of “campus boys” to study on campus. They worked jobs deemed unsuitable for the young ladies enrolled, in exchange for room, board, books, and tuition. Edwin’s job was to milk the
cows twice a day. Helen waited tables.

“I thought he was the cutest redhead I ever saw, and so witty,” she said. “When he was younger with red hair he looked like Mickey Rooney.”

Courtship and college proceeded. Ed proposed, and Helen accepted; then he got busy with work. Feeling rejected, or at least neglected, after not hearing from him for months, Helen returned the engagement ring.

“I didn’t even get a postcard for half a year,” she said. “I really, dearly loved him. It hurt so bad. Worst thing I ever did.”

The following Thanksgiving, Ed returned to the Valley and requested a date, which Helen granted. He again proposed, and she again accepted.They decided to make it official on Christmas, a day easy to remember. Ed was always busy with holiday concerts back when he was teaching, when he was “engulfed in music,” as he put it.

Now they relax and remember. They smell the cookies and admire their tree. And neither is going anywhere.

“We’re both planning to live to over 100,” said Ed, 97.

-Patrick Beach