Seventy-five years of hard work and happiness

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Heather Wright Photo Wilford and Betty Mitchell share a laugh at their home near Brigden. The couple celebrated their 75th anniversary Sept. 1. The couple have six children, 14 grandchildren 32 great grandchildren and one great, great grandchild on the way any day now.

Heather Wright
The Independent

In 1942, when Wilford Mitchell and his friend met Mary Betty St. John and her friend at the Brigden Fair, he could not have know he would share nearly eight decades of his life with her.
It was the beginning of many meetings between the 16 year-old Wilford and 15 year-old Betty as she was known.
The spent time together with friends and before long Wilford was hitchhiking to Petrolia to see a show and to see Betty at the Dairy Bar where she worked.
Wilford says Betty made an impression.
“She made a good hamburgs,” he says with a slight smile while sitting at the table of the Brigden area farmhouse Friday.
Wilford kept coming back. Eventually, he had his own car to drive. He would come into Petrolia to take her home to the end of Maude Street at the end of her shift.
When Betty turned 16, Wilford gave her a ring with her initials engraved on it – BSJ. She still wears it on her pinky.
They soon realized they shared the same work ethic. During the Second World War, Wilford’s father petitioned to have him stay home to work on the farm; Betty worked in a munitions factory in Sarnia making bombs for the war effort. After she was laid off, she went to the Hillman Hotel in Petrolia where she worked for $7 a week and a room, cleaning rooms and serving at the restaurant six days a week.
By 1945, just months after Betty turned 18, they were married. Betty wore a light pink dress and Wilford a sharp suit to the ceremony at the ministers house. The celebration was small. Betty’s mother had saved her sugar rations to make a cake to celebrate.
Afterward, the couple took Wilford’s Model A and headed to Detroit for a honeymoon at her uncle’s. It proved to be a more difficult trip than expected, changing several flat tires along the way.
It was a good time away and the Mitchell’s still have the mirror their uncle made for them as a wedding gift.
When they returned home, they went to work on the family farm. By 1948, the couple decided to strike out on their own buying a farm west of Brigden.
“We had a dollar in our wallet when we moved over there…and we had two little ones,” says Betty.
Wilford went to work at the Sarnia Bridge Company while Betty stayed home with the kids and worked the farm.
“I had 500 hens west of Brigden and I had two cows and I raised veal on my two cows,” she says.
“He was getting a dollar an hour and I was getting more money with my cows and my chickens than he was in town.”
“I had a check in my pocket and I wouldn’t have to pull it out,” says Wilford.
Their little family grew to six children and they worked the farm together. By 1960, the job at Sarnia Bridge ended and they expanded their farm operation.
Their daughter, Rosemary George, says her dad and mom worked hard together.
They had chickens initially – up to 1,000 of them which kept Betty busy sometimes until the early hours of the morning.
By 1964, they started buying cattle raising 300 head a year. Wilford raised cattle as he had as a young man in Oil Springs and fixed farm equipment with his welding skills.
The couple became involved in the Lambton Cattlemens’ Association and were soon travelling around Canada and the United States on trips for the organization.
They continued chicken farming until 1980 and cattle farming until 2018 before they retired.
“They were both hands-on farmers,” says George. “Betty was a hard worker gathering eggs every day from their laying hens.”
Betty was also active in the Brigden Do-R Best Women’s Institute. It just dissolved last year.
George says Betty loved music and the couple often went to local dances and Fiddlers Contests.
Today, the couple still live on one of their farms.
Wilford has had some health issues recently spending a week in hospital, but the 92 year-old is fine now.
Their life is not as busy now, says Betty. They watch Wheel of Fortune and then Jeopardy every night. Then, they play the card game SkipBo until 11 at night.
Betty still cooks their meals and Wilford still appreciates her cooking, although he jokes her hamburger is not quite as good as it used to be.
Sunday, they had a simple celebration – coffee and cake with family – mirroring that first celebration 75 years ago in Oil Springs when they started their life together.