Provo couple celebrate 70 years together

Shirley Paxman, left, and Monroe Paxman sit for a portrait at their house in Provo on Friday, Dec. 7, 2012. The Paxmans are both 93 and will be celebrating their 70th anniversary on Dec. 15, 2012. JAMES ROH/Daily Herald

PROVO -- Monroe Paxman wanted a date with Helen Brockbank to the Senior Hop. When he called she told him she already had a date, but told him to wait and passed the phone to her younger sister Shirley. That was 77 years ago. Today Monroe and Shirley Paxman will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary.

Monroe said their first real date was going to Christmas midnight mass at St. Francis Catholic Church. "It was the only date these two Mormon kids could afford," he said.

Their children call their legacy magical and remarkable.

It was seven years from that first dance date until their wedding -- Monroe went on an LDS mission to England that abruptly changed to the Northern States Mission when World War II started. From there he went to Wichita, Kan., and worked for Culver Aircraft Corporation. Shirley went to nursing school at Holy Cross Hospital in Salt Lake City and lived with the nuns for three years. They married on Dec. 18, 1942, in the Salt Lake Temple.

Soon after their marriage Monroe entered law school, receiving his juris doctorate from the University of Utah in 1949. Shirley raised their children and eventually went on to get a master's degree from Brigham Young University in child development and family relations.

Every Monday morning the couple sit down, check their newspaper and begin filling their weekly schedule. Nearly every day they go to a lecture, performing arts program or a museum. It's not unusual to see these 93-year-olds walking arm in arm across Brigham Young University or Utah Valley University campuses as they have for more than seven decades.

Carolyn Paxman Bentley said her parents knew how to create enriching experiences, whether it was taking the family to Austria for a summer or holding backyard circuses each summer to benefit Primary Children's Medical Center.

"I guess the most amazing thing about our parents was they were an exceptional match whose gifts individually combined to make a powerful, creative, dynamic, energetic and committed pair who practiced mindful parenting as they looked for doors to open for us and for experiences to give us that would help us grow and try to live each day to the fullest," Bentley said.

Monroe was a judge and a founder of the Rocky Mountain Juvenile Court Institute. He took that training overseas and taught U.S. law classes for the military as far away as Turkey, Italy and Spain.

Shirley served on the board of directors for the Provo School District and as president for two years. She also served on the Utah Governor's School Study committee that evaluated Utah schools.

But their primary focus was their seven children. They even wrote books together about raising children and how to have fun family nights and activities.

"As a Cub Scout, I dropped the cake I was baking for a contest on the kitchen floor," son John Paxman recalled. "It broke into tens of pieces. My parents suggested that I pour chocolate frosting on it and name it Earthquake Cake. It won first prize."

Throughout their life together the Paxmans have served their community. For 25 years they helped with the upkeep of Provo's decaying Academy Square, now the city library. When others let it go to near ruin, they put a sprinkler system in to help save the lawn. Shirley, when she was in her 70s, stepped in front of a bulldozer to keep the building from being torn down. For 27 years they celebrated the beginning of Advent with the popular Carols by Candlelight services. Some of Shirley's best moments were with her 3,000 dolls at the McCurdy Doll Museum, which she ran for more than 20 years.

And then there was their unknown service to their government.

Daughter Annette Paxman Bowen recalls the decades her parents served as official hosts of the U.S. State Department for foreign guests travelling through Utah. "Mom and Dad were interested in broadening our horizons," Bowen said. "They wanted us to know about the world beyond Utah Valley." She said for years, people from all over the world came to their home. Some chose to stay in their home rather than in a hotel.

"I remember many of these visitors by the names Mom would use to prepare us for their visits, like seven Turkish gentlemen, or four imams and visitors from the Vatican," she said. They were actually cardinals who served Pope John Paul II.

"My most lasting memory was the time the prime minister of the Sudan came to stay. I was asked to give up my bedroom for him. My parents explained that he would bring his own prayer rug and would retreat to my room several times a day to pray," Bowen said. "I had forgotten the prayer times and needed something from my closet. As I approached my room, the door was slightly ajar and I saw the prime minister bowing his head to the ground and speaking his prayer in his foreign tongue. This made a lasting impression on a young Mormon girl."

Susie Paxman Hatch, the Paxmans' youngest child, admits she was naive growing up, thinking that everyone had parents like hers. As she grew older she realized this was not always the case.

"One of my favorite memories as a child is having my mother appear in my third-grade classroom as she came to pick me up for a few hours so that I could go with her and my siblings to a concert at BYU."

This was only one of many concerts and performances the Paxmans attended as family throughout the years. One of their most memorable dates was to hear famous composer/pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff perform in the Provo Tabernacle.

According to Nancy Paxman Thomas, her parents were thinkers and communicators; they taught the value of work and that knowledge is power. They also taught the magic of celebrating life and holidays.

"Dad and Mom worked as a team to create a family where work was valued, and fun and creating magical moments were a necessary part of life," Thomas said.

The Paxmans' lives have not always been a bed of roses and growing old gracefully is a daily task. The children have grown. Friends have died. A few years ago, their beloved daughter Mary died from cancer. But in all, their lives together have been filled with joy.

How do you live to be 93? "You turn off the TV and get out of the house," Shirley said.

"We've had a wonderful, wonderful time together and still are," Monroe said.

The Paxmans will celebrate with an open house today from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at their home, 135 E. 200 North in Provo.