CLIFTON PARK — After 70 years of matrimony, Allan and Neva Atwell are still cracking jokes over their dinner table.
The pair celebrated seven decades together with community members and family at the Town Hall where Clifton Park Town Supervisor recognized their long commitment to each other. Besides that, the pair celebrated by enjoying a quiet night together. “After all these years, what is left to do?” asked Neva, half-jokingly.
“What’s the secret to staying together for so long?” It’s a question the Atwells field more and more, with each passing anniversary. “I just let him do what he wants to do,” said Neva.
“I can’t believe it’s been 70 years,” she said.
Their refrigerator is plastered with photos of their five children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. A door frame in the kitchen is covered in pencil marks, showing the height of friends and family members growing over the years.
Allan, now 91, grew up in Breesport. a rural town near Elmira. Neva grew up in the next town over, Erin, but the two often passed the time at the same general store that doubled as a post office.
When he was about 17 years old, Allan worked up the courage to ask a girl he saw at the store to go to a dance with him. She told him ‘no’ since she already had a date but suggested Allan ask her friend, Neva.
“You make it sound like I never had boyfriends,” said Neva. Before she married Allan, Neva often wrote letters to the “boys” in the service. “That’s what you did back then,” she said. “Yes, you were quite the pen pal,” said Allan. Some of Neva’s pen pals mailed her gifts — silk stockings and even grass skirts.
Allan went to the recruiting offices to enlist the day after his 18th birthday. “They weren’t taking enlistments,” according to Allan, so he went straight to the draft board.
Fast forward to 1944 and Atwell, still a teenager, is fighting in the Battle of the Bulge with the 28th Division. “It was the worst winter in decades,” he said. Allan suffered severe frostbite that sent him to a hospital in Belgium for a time. He later became a military policeman — that’s “probably why I’m here today,” he said.
Allan returned home and married Neva in June 1946. “What a wild town Elmira was when the war was over,” recalled Allan. While Allan couldn’t recall the specifics on how he proposed to Neva, she remembered the night vividly. “We parked on top of a hill on our way down to Erin. We sat there and chatted and you asked me to marry you,” said Neva. Apparently Allan added, “But not right away, I gotta get a job first,” according to Neva’s recollection.
“She was just a child bride of 18,” he laughed. Allan was just 20 years old and said he had to ask his mother’s permission to get hitched.
Allan and Neva reminisced on their wedding day. “The church was full,” said Neva. “And the musician didn’t get there until a half hour late,” added Allan. Tired behind the wheel at the end of the night, Allan nearly drove off the road. “My balloon almost burst before it blew up,” he said, adding “That would have been the end before the beginning.”
A job with a phone company brought Allan and Neva to the Capital Region after they married. Allan eventually left the phone company that brought him to the region and started his own phone company, “A.A. Pre-Wiring,” in Clifton Park. “I thought I was gonna set the world on fire,” he said. Neva worked in a factory testing power tubes and later as a nurse’s assistant. Along with volunteer work at the Jonesville Food Pantry, Neva served as the caretaker for her father for 10 years before he passed away at 98 years old.
“If you want to know, is everyday a honeymoon … it isn’t,” said Neva.
Allan interjected, “It’s always nice to have somebody to come home to.”
Recalling a time when Allan left one of their children’s birthday party to tend to a grass fire, Neva said “Al never likes to miss anything.”
“I don’t miss much that I’m aware of. I found you,” he replied.
“I don’t know if you found me or we found each other,” replied Neva.