Las Vegas Sun

September 18, 2019

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Unbreakable bond: Las Vegas couple celebrate 70 years together

Jim and Joyce

Camalot Todd

Jim and Joyce Ekstrom hold hands at the senior living home, Sunday, June 17, 2018. They’ll be celebrating their 70th anniversary on June 19.

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Jim and Joyce Ekstrom pose for a photo. They'll be celebrating their 70th anniversary on June 19.

Jim and Joyce Ekstrom’s love story started at a hospital in Duluth, Minn.

Jim, who had recently returned from serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, accompanied his younger sister to visit a sick friend. Joyce was there visiting the same patient. They locked eyes and a love story was quickly formed.

They married on the evening on June 19, 1948, during a candlelight ceremony and they explored Yellowstone National Park for their honeymoon. Joyce was 20; Jim, 22.

“How did we make it 70 years? Well he was just easy to live with and I think I was tough to live with, but we made it,” Joyce said. “We didn’t know any better — is that our secret? No, let’s see. I told him he could make all the major, big decisions and I’d make all the small decisions. So far there hasn’t been any big ones.”

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Jim Ekstrom, left, and Joyce Ekstrom, right, during a date at Lake Superior Minnesota. They'll be celebrating their 70th anniversary on June 19.

Today, the couple mark the rare achievement of celebrating 70 years of marriage. The feat is so rare that the U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t have data on how many couples make it to the milestone, according to a census bureau information officer. Only 6 percent of married couples make it beyond their 50th, or golden anniversary, according to the bureau.

Jim and Joyce’s life today is mostly quiet. They live at a senior home in Summerlin and have called the Las Vegas Valley their home for 20 years.

In their decades together they’ve operated a motel, sailed the seas on about 60 cruises, explored the U.S. wilderness in a motorhome and visited places like Hong Kong, Thailand, Mexico, and Turkey to name a few. Some of their more relaxed time together includes watching romantic movies at the theater or spending the day at Lake Superior.

For most of their marriage, Jim worked as an independent contractor, building homes across the country from Minnesota, Florida, Arizona and more.

Their love of traveling stemmed from when Jim and Joyce operated the Airliner Motel from 1958 to 1963. There they welcomed guests from all over the world for five years before their motel was bought out.

“We just enjoyed meeting people from all over the world with the way it was, and having something like that [motel] you do meet a lot of people from all over, ” Joyce said. “And everybody liked staying there, too — we had free TVs in all of the rooms, so that was important years ago. Today, they wouldn’t even advertise free TV.”

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Joyce Ekstrom playing the 1930s big band hit "In The Mood" at her piano in the Ekstrom's room at the senior living home, Sunday, June 17, 2018. The Wentwork of Las Vegas, in Summerlin. Joyce and Jim Ekstrom will be celebrating their 70th anniversary on June 19.

They’ve also watched their daughters Debbie and Trudy, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren grow. Often, the family would gather around Joyce as she played the piano, a skill she learned as a young girl by watching and listening to a pianist at the now-defunct department store Glass Block.

“We didn’t have any money to go out and buy music,” Joyce recalled. “My mother said, ‘We’re not paying 35 cents for a piece of popular music.’ … She said, ‘I’ll tell you what: I’ll take you down to the Glass Block. There’s a woman there who plays the piano, and you ask her to play the music you love.

“I thought, ‘Boy, what would I do if I couldn’t memorize it?’ I had to memorize it just like that.”

Joyce passed her love of music down to her daughter, Debbie, who retired in June after 37 years as an elementary school music teacher.

The couple don't travel like they used to, but they reminisce about their shared experiences exploring the world, raising a family, making friends and filling their lives with music and love.

“Now? [We] look at each other,” Joyce jokingly said.

On June 10, friends and family who have known each other over the last seven decades gathered in Las Vegas to celebrate alongside the couple.

“He let me be the boss and so he had a good boss,” Joyce said. “You have to have a little humor in your life — you can’t get too serious or bogged down too much, you know what I mean?. You have to be a little light-headed once in a while to make things go, and you have to be in love to keep going year after year. I think the love should go from one year to the next.”