On Jan. 19, 1941, Barbara Perry was one of four women in a toboggan who made the cover of the Minneapolis Star Journal. Felix Perry recognized her from high school and thought she was cute. At his roommate’s suggestion, he gave her a call.
“I don’t know if I was the last resort or not,” said Felix, explaining that the poor guy she was seeing at the time was overseas in Italy.
“We hit it right off,” said Barbara.
Felix, age 99, and Barbara, age 96, celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary on Sept. 11.
They are among the longest-married couples in Minnesota, as well as the nation. Worldwide Marriage Encounter, which seeks nominations for the longest-married couples, recognized a Florida couple in 2017 as the nation’s longest-married nominee at 81 years.
Felix and Barbara are familiar faces at Kenny Elementary School, where they’ve volunteered for more than a decade. Students take turns reading to them, and they’ve watched Felix and Barbara demonstrate the samba and the cha cha.
“I turned to her and said, ‘May I have this dance?’” Felix said. “They go wild.”
The couple enjoys an occasional ballroom dance at the Knights of Columbus in Bloomington, and they particularly like Tim Patrick and his Blue Eyes Band, which they recently saw at the Lake Harriet Bandshell.
“When we got off the floor, people applauded us,” Felix said.
Felix said he has two titanium knees and a plastic aortic heart valve, which gave him years to continue skiing and playing tennis. He rollerbladed around Lake Harriet into his mid-90s.
“We’re the oldest on the block,” Barbara said.
“We’re the oldest everywhere,” Felix said.
Barbara said the Kenny neighborhood has been wonderful over the years, with lots of parties, coffee and close friendships.
“We used to have 100 kids on the block,” Barbara said.
They recall a time when there was no alley, no garages and no fences.
“We could see all the way to Edina,” she said.
Before Kenny and Anthony schools, the neighborhood bused their children to Lake Street.
“We had to go down to City Hall and say we’re reproducing, and we’d like some schools,” Barbara said.
The couple has lived in their home for 70 years. Photos covering the walls feature the couple downhill skiing, their five children and grandchildren, a painting by Barbara’s sister of their childhood summer place in New Jersey, and a 1991 letter of recognition upon Felix’s retirement in 1991 at age 71. Felix worked for Northwest Airlines as a manager in structural engineering and interior accommodations.
“I put the seats too close together,” he joked. “…I enjoyed every day of work.”
Felix regularly emails “Grandpa grams” to family members, complete with memories, family news, a detailed rundown of weekly meals and activities, stock market reports and vocabulary words.
Felix advises that if you’re going to start a project, finish the whole job before moving on.
“Don’t try to do two things at one time, because you don’t do either one of them well,” he said. “It’s more important for old people, because it’s harder to correct your errors.”
When it comes to relationship advice, the couple said they get along well.
“We complement each other,” Felix said. “When I go off the deep end, she slows me down.”
“Hang in there,” Barbara said. “There is no trick.”