On a cold November night in 1943, Eugene “Gene” Drogos and Evelyn “Louise” Hux danced to big band music on a blind date. They had no idea it would be their first date of many.
He was a Navy air crewman flying blimps at the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station in Elizabeth City. She was a Navy nurse working at Elizabeth City Memorial Hospital.
A farm girl from Speed, N.C., Louise never thought she would end up with a “city boy” from Pittsburgh.
After dating for about two years, the couple married on July 16, 1946 at the Naval Air Station in Edenton, N.C.
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Louise, 94, and Gene, 91, are now preparing to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary.
Even though Louise has trouble hearing him, Gene is patient and lovingly calls her “mother.”
The walls and shelves of their Colony Woods home are decorated with pictures of them, their five children, 10 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. They keep a statue of the Virgin Mary in their garden.
They agree their love has grown and that their faith has helped them get through the hard times.
Louise grew up Protestant, but converted to Catholicism while they were dating. She didn’t tell Gene, who grew up Catholic, until after he proposed.
“He was gonna marry me for what he thought I was,” Louise joked.
Mary Marchman, their oldest daughter, said her parents’ faith supported them as Gene served in World War II, as he fought cancer years ago, and most recently, after the death of two of their children.
“I don’t know what I’d do without him,” Louise said, gazing at her husband.
The first kiss
Two weeks after their first date, Louise was hospitalized with appendicitis. Gene ordered two dozen roses, then realized this was something special because he had never done anything like that before.
She went home to Speed to recuperate and didn’t return to Elizabeth City until a few months later in December.
On Jan. 1, 1944, Gene “smooched” Louise for the first time at a New Year’s party.
She knew he was the one from the “funny feeling” that kiss gave her.
“I really laid it on her,” Gene said.
A few months later, in May 1944, the couple shared a sad goodbye when he was shipped overseas. They didn’t see each other again until 1946 but wrote letters while he was gone.
When Gene returned home to Pittsburgh in February 1946, Louise flew up to see him.
“When she got off that plane, I put my arms around her,” Gene said with a twinkle in his eye. “ I just felt inside, ‘this is the person I want to marry.’”
The next day, Gene proposed. He was 22 and said it wasn’t perfect. He didn’t get on his knee, and he didn’t have a ring.
But she said yes.
“I was about 23 years old,” Louise said. “It was about time I made up my mind.”
After 11 years of marriage, the couple settled in North Carolina where Gene studied Radio, Television and Motion Pictures at UNC (now the School of Media and Journalism). Louise worked as a nurse at UNC Hospitals, eventually becoming a supervisor.
“She left quite a legacy at the hospital and then went back and volunteered for 25 years after she left there and retired,” Marchman said.
They became very involved at St. Thomas More Catholic Church after moving to Chapel Hill in 1957.
Theresa Albin, pastoral associate emerita, met them 35 years ago through the church. “They were very generous volunteers and helped everywhere with everything,” she said.
In 2004, the couple received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award for their service to North Carolina and their community. The award is the highest honor given to North Carolina residents.
Marchman, 69, said her parents’ faith, strength and commitment to each other have been treasures to her. She’s looking forward to celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary on July 16 with family and close friends.
“A lot of people don’t make it to 70, much less seventy years of marriage,” Marchman said.
Gene said he’s sorry that so many marriages end in divorce and thinks most couples can work through any problem if they try hard.
“I believe that if you really love one another, you can overcome whatever problems you may have,” he said.
Louise thinks communication, patience and tolerance are the keys to a long marriage.
“You make a commitment, you stay with it,” she said, then added, “He wouldn’t have anywhere to go if I let him go anyway.”