70 years of marriage: ‘It’s a great love story, that’s for darn sure’
It all began in May 1951 when a young man named Walt Florquist was introduced to Betty Brown while visiting his hometown of Fraser while on leave from the U.S. Navy.
“(Betty’s family members) were living in an over-and-under duplex, and my brother was living in the bottom,” Walt said. “I saw Betty there and asked her if she wanted to go to a movie. She said yes.”
That date led to a love story that stretches 70 years through lean times, good times and enough adventures to fill two lifetimes.
Walt said he can’t remember what movie the couple went to see on the first date, but the date went well. After that evening, he and Betty went out someplace every night he was home on leave.
Walt was between oversea trips to Korea while serving on the USS Essex, an aircraft carrier helping support efforts during the Korean War, which was in full swing in eastern Asia from 1950-53.
Walt said there are no words to describe the feeling he had for the young woman he had just met, but he knew that he couldn’t leave her side. He spent nearly every day of his leave with Betty, and by the time he got back on base and boarded the Essex for his second trip to Korea, his plans were focused on marriage.
“While I was overseas, we wrote back-and-forth to one another,” Walt recalled. “I bought our rings at the PX (military store) in Yokohama (Japan). I never did propose to her because I think we just assumed we were going to get married.”
The next time Walt returned to the United States, the couple was married on Feb. 27, 1953 in Granby at the preacher’s house. Shortly after the wedding, the newlyweds jumped into a 1941 Chevy that Walt’s sister had given the couple and headed to Bremerton, Washington, where Walt was slated to be back on duty to unload the Essex.
The couple lived in Washington for three months before Walt was transferred to San Diego, where he spent his final two years of his enlistment living in a small home they had rented a few miles off the Navy base. During that time, the Florquists welcomed their first son, Keith, to the family.
The next several years were a whirlwind of new towns, new homes and new adventures for the couple. Walt admitted the times where lean, but he said the family’s home always seemed to be filled with love.
“Having parents that stayed together through thick and thin, through better or worse, absolutely sets a good example,” said Keith, who will celebrate his 49th wedding anniversary on Friday, Feb. 17. “It shows you how you’re going to have tough times, but you stay together. You actually make it through the tough times by staying together.”
Walt left the Navy in 1955, and the couple made stops in Fort Collins, and then Fraser as part of his job with the U.S. Forest Service. Eventually, the couple landed in Boulder, where Walt leased a gas station on 24th Street.
“It was just down the hill from the football stadium,” he recalled. “We damn near starved to death because back then Conoco allowed you to make about five cents a gallon, but then they wanted you to give away Gold Bond Stamps, which cost about two cents a gallon. That left us with three cents per gallon to get by.”
Despite the struggles, the Florquists made the best of what they had, and Betty gave birth to the couple’s second child, Kraig.
“We would do everything that we could afford to do back then, but we were hardly making any money,” Walt said. “We had friends that were in Boulder. When we could afford it we would go see a football game, and as a veteran I could get into the basketball games for nothing.”
Walt started offering mechanical services at his gas station to make more money, but that was short-lived after the Conoco representative who lived in Boulder stopped into his shop one day when he was working on a car.
“I was putting the clutch on an old Plymouth that was up on the rack,” Walt said. “He came in he says, ‘If you read your lease, you’re not supposed to be doing mechanical work.’”
Walt responded by pointing out that the lease also didn’t say that he could starve to death selling gas. Thirty days later, Walt wrote a letter to the representative and terminated the lease. He then started selling cars for a Chevrolet dealer, and Betty worked as an assistant at a local elementary school helping out in classes. That lasted for about eight years, but as the times changed in Boulder, Walt and Betty were eager to get their family back to the mountains.
Walt looked into leasing a station in Vail, but it wasn’t going to be available for 12 months. Then one day as he was reading the Denver Post, Walt saw an advertisement about a station for lease in Steamboat Springs.
A short time later, he leased the station, which was next to the Rabbit Ears Motel, and the family made Steamboat Springs their permanent home.
Walt would run a couple gas stations in Steamboat for decades, and he only ventured away to pound nails on construction projects. He is best known for his station at 402 Lincoln Ave., which he leased from Bob Wither and operated from 1975 until 1993. Walt became a well-known businessman in Steamboat Springs and built a strong following among locals who relied on him to fix their cars, and Betty made her mark working at F.M. Light & Sons.
“We knew a lot of people through his service station, and mom knew a lot of people through F.M. Light besides working there for years,” Kraig said. “So they were definitely a part of the fabric of town during that time.”
Keith and Kraig both graduated from Steamboat Springs High School before heading off to college. Keith started college in Fort Collins and later married Bonnie Schnackenberg. He later graduated from St. Cloud State and went on to get his master’s degree in business administration.
In 2017, he joined Summit Wealth Group to assist in advisor development and recruiting, and he lives in Evergreen. Kraig attended Western State College in Gunnison (Western Colorado University), where he was a member of the college’s baseball team. Today, he lives in Landers, Wyoming, with his wife and two sons.
At 90 years old, Walt has lived in the same modest home at the base of Rabbit Ears Pass since moving to the area in the 1970s. He still blows the snow out of the driveway in the winter, offers his next door neighbor’s dog a Milk-Bone dog treat — or two — when he scratches at the door and watches the wildlife pass by in the summer. He also cares for Betty, whom Walt loves as much as ever even as she has struggled with dementia the past several years.
“She’s very hard to communicate with, but I take care of her. She has to be fed and taken care of,” Walt said. “You get up in the morning and do the right thing, and it will always work out.”
The right thing for Walt is honoring the commitment he made 70 years ago, something he said you don’t always see these days.
“People have no idea what a commitment is,” he said as he spoke about caring for Betty. “These politicians get up there and they swear an oath, but they have no idea what they’re swearing about. We agreed for better or for worse. For the last two or three years, it’s been the worst, but that commitment is still there.”
Walt said he keeps moving forward and, in less than two weeks, plans on recognizing the commitment he made to the love of his life 70 years ago. The love he shares with Betty is easy to see in the photographs inside his home and the pride he takes in his six grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
“(My parents) solve problems together and took care of each other, and that kind of is what it all boils down to,” Kraig said. “It’s a great love story, that’s for darn sure.”
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