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For Better and For Worse: Couple Celebrates 60 Years of Marriage

On August 17, Community elders Ruthella and Leon Washington celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary with friends and family at the Salt River Community Building.

Wedding vows exchanged in the Church of God at Salt River were vows that Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community elders Ruthella and Leon Washington did not take lightly. Like any married couple, they can attest to their share of ups and downs; but now, 60 years later, they find themselves stronger than ever with the family and legacy they created. Last month, they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary with family and friends at the Salt River Community Building.

The couple married on August 17, 1957, in the Phoenix neighborhood of Sunnyslope because the couples church offered a small private wedding. Ruthella, 17 years old at the time, was from Salt River, and Leon, 24, was from Lehi. Ruthella attended church regularly at the Church of God, and Leon “hung around the church” waiting for Ruthella in his brand-new ’38 Plymouth.

“I couldn’t wait to show off my car,” recalled Leon. “I took her to the drive-in in that car.” This was their first date. Soon, family and friends would learn of their relationship.

Leon remembered the first time he met Ruthella’s mother—at the gas station. “She parked behind me at the gas pump. I was driving an old Ford. She saw me and said, really loud, ‘Get this junk out of here!’ She knew I was with Ruthella and knew who I was. She was just teasing me. At first I was kind of scared. But little did she know I would be her son-in-law,” Leon said, laughing.

1973, (L-R) Richard Burton Sr., Unknown, Ruthella, Leon and grandkids.
The couple soon started their family of 10 children: Bruce, Linda, Dale, Leona, Lamar, Esther, Myron, Michael, Kathy and Shawnna. Ruthella was a housewife until her youngest child was old enough to attend school. Leon worked odd jobs in the fields, picking cotton, farming and truck driving. This family of 12 remembers the early hardships and how thankful they are for those hardships right now, as it made them the people they are today.

“My mom and dad both speak their own languages, O’odham and Piipaash. But they have a way of communicating with each other. They both talk to each other in their languages and understand each other,” said Linda, the oldest daughter.

Conversation about favorite family memories included driving around the mountains, taking all the kids on trips, going to church together, tracing feet on cardboard boxes so Leon could get the kids new shoes when he got paid, and going to eat at different restaurants on pay day.

Leon also acknowledged that he had a drinking problem. Despite these troubling times, Ruthella never gave up on him. “I prayed for him all the time,” she said. “Even though it got really tough sometimes, I did my best. I took my vows and had to do the best that I could. He finally came around.”

The Washingtons (L-R back): Shawnna Juan, Ruthella, Leona Andreas-Washington, Kathy Washington, and Leon. (L-R front): Dale Washington Sr., Linda Gonzalez, and Michael Washington. Not pictured Esther Washington.
“She saved me. She’s a good person who helped to change me. She cared for my kids and me. We held on to each other no matter what and took it day by day,” said Leon as he looked at his 78-year-old wife, holding back tears. “I’m losing all the good memories because of sickness and old age.” Leon beat prostate cancer, and both are continuing to fight the aches and sicknesses that come with old age. Together, the family finds complete happiness.

What’s the secret? According to both Ruthella and Leon, it takes communication, faith, hope, trust and love. They worked out their problems, no matter how big or how small, because they both wanted to see their kids and grandkids get older.

“We raised good children. Yeah, we didn’t have everything, but together we had it all,” recalled Ruthella. “We’re a tight-knit family who is always glad to be home together. That brings us all happiness. To this day we still check on all our kids and grandkids every day. We try our best to be there for everyone.”

The couple now enjoys going out to their favorite restaurants together for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

“My parents are a perfect example to me,” said Linda. “Yeah, we had hardship, but we would just pray for my dad every day. Together they are strong and give us strength. They faced everything together. I always come to them for advice. They are both good people with love and care.”

“My mom showed me patience. I admire the strength of my mom. It made us all strong. I too come to them for advice. They are a great example of love,” said daughter Leona.

The couples grandchildren celebrated with Ruthella and Leon.
The couple’s traditional vows read, “For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, from this day forward, until death do us part.” The couple took this to heart, and they continue to live by those vows to this day.

Two years ago, on the couple’s 58th anniversary, Ruthella and Leon tried to sneak off to Sedona alone.

“They found out about us trying to run away together, and Linda ended up going with us,” said Ruthella. “I tried to tell her, ‘Let’s just go,’” said Leon to his wife. “We’re not young anymore,” said Ruthella.

Sixty years of marriage for this adventurous couple—and forever to go.