In nearly 70 years of marriage, Steve and Laura Root of Battle Ground have journeyed halfway around the world and home again.
The couple met as students at Seattle Pacific University, their backgrounds disparate. Laura grew up in California and then the Yakima Valley, her father a homesteader, farmer, and some time real estate speculator. Steve spent his childhood in India where his parents worked as missionaries, and attended a boarding school in the northern Indian jungle, three days’ train ride from home.
When Steve and Laura met in college, they were both studying to become teachers, and were quickly smitten with each other. They married in 1947, before finishing their studies, with a plan to become teachers in Alaska where they could earn “big” money.
That plan changed when Steve’s parents called with an exciting opportunity. An American-style boarding school in southern India was looking for a vice principal. Steve and Laura could both work there, though earning the opposite of big money, a mere $100 per month.
Laura didn’t take the idea seriously, at first.
“I laughed at it. I thought, how could we go to India? That was so foreign to me,” she said.
But in the end, the couple boarded an ocean-going ship for the nine-day journey to India, and spent 17 of the next 22 years teaching in the 400-student, 12 grade Kodaikanal School. They raised four sons in the 7,000-foot-elevation foothills, in a little duplex overlooking a beautiful lake. You could see the hot, arid plains thousands of feet below, said Laura, but the seasons were temperate in Kodai.
Their ayah, a housemaid in India, cared for the young children and prepared the family’s meals over a wood-fired oven. The family spent school vacations visiting Steve’s parents in Chikalda, in central India, where they hunted tigers, leopards and wild boars.
Twin plaques hang on the entry wall now in their Battle Ground home, with colorful butterflies encased in resin. The story brings a smile to both of their faces, as Laura recounts that long-ago time in India.
Their first transportation at Kodai was a Lambretta scooter, and they had three small boys. Steve would pilot the bike, with Laura on the seat behind him, one boy propped on the handlebars, and a child clinging to each side. In each of their hands was a butterfly net, five of them, skimming the air along the way for the colorful butterflies of India.
By 1972, the couple knew they were ready to return to the United States for good. Their two oldest sons were attending college in Washington, and the two younger boys were in high school.
Steve applied for school administrator jobs across Washington, but when he received an offer to serve as assistant superintendent for Battle Ground School District, they knew that was where they would call home. Steve and Laura had already begun making payments to purchase her parents’ small farm in Heisson, so they had a home waiting for them.
The parents’ native country was foreign to their sons, said Laura. They had grown up without cars, modern music or movies. They couldn’t relate to their classmates’ experiences, and felt like “fish out of water.”
But the family settled in. Laura was happy to have her own kitchen again, and resume cooking for her family. She preserves fruit and jams from their Battle Ground garden. No longer teaching school, she took up oil painting and, later, tried her hand at watercolor painting.
Steve spent 10 years as assistant superintendent in Battle Ground, before retiring at age 55. His next chapter was to pursue a long-held interest in piloting small aircraft. When Mount St. Helens erupted, he took tourists from around the world aloft to view the crater up close.
Through it all, for 51 years, Steve was a member of the U.S. Naval Reserves.
Tacked to the Root’s refrigerator, among family photos, a pizza store magnet, and a United States flag, is a computer printed list titled simply, “Marriage Tips.” It starts with “Say ‘I love you’ a lot,” and 16 tips later, concludes, “Make serving your spouse a high priority.”
Laura turned 90 years of age this year. Next year, Steve will have his 90th birthday, and together they will celebrate 70 years of marriage. They have four children, 16 grandchildren, and 21 great-grandchildren, with three more on the way, they add.
“We’ve been very happy,” said Laura.
It seems they have put into practice the best of those tips.
Reflecting on the journey their lives have taken, Laura said, “Just one little decision makes a big difference. It was a wonderful experience.”