By Katrina Genereux/Associate Editor, OND
Fosston – Clara and Eugene “Gene” Manecke will be honored at the 23rd annual Marriage Celebration Day on Oct. 7. Bishop Michael J. Hoeppner will celebrate Mass at 2:30 p.m. at Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Crookston. All are invited to attend the Mass and reception. Please call 218-281-4533 or visit www.crookston.org/marriageday by Sept. 24 to RSVP.
Although the Maneckes have lived in Fosston since 1974, both Clara and Eugene are from Bemidji. The couple has been married for 60 years, but they don’t agree about how they met.
Clara says her story is more romantic than his. She was working at the lunch counter in Bemidji’s Markham Hotel, and a friend introduced her to Gene. It was raining, so they asked Gene for a ride home, but when they arrived, the girls were locked out. He helped them get in through the basement. When he tried to leave, his tire was flat, so Clara visited with him while he changed it.
Gene claims his car was too new to have a flat tire. His version is simpler: his friend was dating her friend, and the four of them went for a drive.
Regardless of how they met, Gene returned to Duluth to work on the ore boats.
“I was gone for three or four months, and she was still there when I got back, so we’ve been together ever since,” Gene said.
THE EARLY YEARS
Clara was raised Catholic and Gene’s parents belonged to the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. Clara and Gene were married in a civil ceremony on March 8, 1958.
“Three days after we got married, I got a draft notice, so she spent the first couple years alone,” Gene said.
“I didn’t recognize him when he came back, he had lost so much weight at basic training,” Clara said.
Gene spent 13 months serving in Korea. When he returned, he was stationed in Kansas for a few months in 1960. During that time, their marriage was validated by a priest.
When Gene’s military service was complete, the couple returned to Bemidji and had four children: Kerri, Janet, Deborah and Ralph.
“He didn’t go to Church anywhere,” Clara said. She got the children ready and took them to Mass every weekend at St. Philip.
“If they were good in church, they got a penny for the gum machine afterwards,” she said.
The family across the street was also Catholic. Clara said spending time with them was a good way to stay connected to the parish.
Their girls went to public school, but Clara brought them to religion classes taught by sisters at the parish on Saturdays.
A TIME OF CONVERSION
In 1974 the family moved to Fosston and became members of St. Mary’s.
Attending a Marriage Encounter retreat with another couple from the parish in 1979 had a big impact on their family.
“I don’t think Gene would have gone if it wouldn’t have been for another guy that he knew,” Clara said. “It was just a marvelous experience and helped you talk through all the different parts of your marriage and that was when Gene shared that he wanted to join the Church, and I was just so excited.”
Gene was confirmed at the same time as their 13-year-old daughter. He said that decision improved their family life.
“We were together more often,” he said. “When I started going to Church, it got me more involved with my kids.”
“Our kids were really proud of him too for coming with us to church,” Clara said.
During Advent and Lent, the family made a point to gather around the table for prayer and discussions about the Catholic faith.
“It’s been a busy life for us and real good. It’s always been Church connected,” she said.
Clara was involved with many ministries, serving as a lector, Eucharistic minister, catechist, visiting nursing homes and shut-ins, and providing transportation to Mass for those who need it.
She had to cut back on ministry work because macular degeneration has blurred her eyesight.
The Maneckes have found great community throughout their time at St. Mary’s. They belonged to a study group for years. Clara said today the group’s ages range from 57-93.
“We have a really good friendship and we have grown so much in our faith because of that,” she said.
Father JohnMelkies Suvakeen is their pastor. He nominated them because he was touched by their spiritual life. He said they are very active in the parish and the community and have deeply committed prayer lives.
Faith has helped get them through the tough times of life – difficulties in raising their children, the loss of their business, the death of a granddaughter and the distancing of their son.
“A lot of the stories in books – the romance stories – all sound like it’s going to be happily ever after … but there are times where it’s not happily ever after,” Clara said. “I think you have to really, really pray a lot in order to get through your years of marriage and pray through the rough times and the good times and give God thanks and ask him for blessings and for courage and strength to stick it out.”
“It was worth going through the ups and downs,” she said. “Raising children is always stressful and hard and you just pray to God that it’s going to work out and keep going.”
Gene and Clara both worked. She had a variety of jobs throughout the marriage, including 15 years as secretary at St. Mary’s.
They moved to Fosston when Gene bought the truck stop in town. He said he worked 15 hours a day, seven days a week to keep his business, but after 20 years, he lost the station. He regrets missing time with his children during their early years.
PRAYER AND GOD’S PLANS
Kerri lives in White Bear Lake, Janet is in Arizona, Deborah is in Iowa and Ralph is in Boston.
For many years, their relationship with their youngest daughter was strained. She ran away a few times as a teenager, but things improved. Three years ago, when Clara was in the hospital for a few weeks, Deborah was by her side. All three of their daughters helped during that tough time.
“They all step up to the plate when they’re needed,” Clara said.
They are estranged from their son.
“I always pray every single day that he is going to come back,” Clara said. “I always stay hopeful anyway. Even when we lost the station, I kept saying God hasn’t turned us down yet … that’s kind of my attitude; he’s not going to abandon us ever.”
Prayer, especially the rosary, has been very important to her throughout life and marriage.
Clara’s grandmother had a handmade cross on her dresser with a rosary on each side – one for her grandmother, one for her grandfather. It made an impression on Clara. She also attended a rosary rally with her mother in Park Rapids when she was a teenager. Her mom had a grotto with the Blessed Virgin in it and they prayed the rosary as a family.
The habit is something Clara faithfully continues.
“She prays the rosary a lot. Every day. She prays it a couple times at night before she goes to bed,” Gene said.
Clara said there are many ups and downs in both marriage and life, but she tries to stay positive.
“It’s the valleys that make the hills so much better,” she said. “You think everything is going smooth and it goes really good for a while and then pretty soon, God has a plan and then you have to face reality and talk it out or fight it out or whatever you have to do to get back together again.”