FREEDOM PLAZA – Roger and Ginny Zwieg met in a Milwaukee high school more than six decades ago. Their first date was to see a July 4 fireworks display the summer after he graduated in 1948.
Ginny thought he was awfully handsome and fun to be with; Roger thought she was pretty and liked his jokes. After inviting him back to her house for watermelon, they ended up in a seed-spitting contest. The stars were aligning.
The two dated on and off for four years before tying the knot. They recently celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary with family members at Freedom Plaza, where they’ve lived since 2013.
“My parents have loved every minute of their life together,” said daughter Ellen Kleinschmidt. “Even through tough times, they kept talking and worked as a team. They’ve always seen the glass half full and don’t take life too seriously. Besides, Mom still giggles at his jokes.”
The couple has had an interesting life together.
Ginny initially attended Milwaukee State Teachers College for three years but left after “she got herself pregnant,” Roger said. Their daughter Ellen was born in 1953, and Ginny stayed home to mother her. Nine years later after their 6-year-old second daughter Paula died following open heart surgery, she returned to the University of Wisconsin and finished her degree in deaf education.
Meanwhile, Roger lasted only six weeks at the teachers college.
“It was as long as I could stay and get a refund,” he said. “I wanted to earn money so I got a job as a mail boy at the Ladish Drop Forge Co.”
In 1951 he entered the U.S. Air Force and was stationed in Bangor, Maine. The following year he came home on Christmas leave and proposed.
“I knew anyone who could spit watermelon seeds the way she could and who pretended to like westerns had to be a darn fine person and was potential for marriage,” Roger wrote in his memoir.
After popping the question they headed to a local tavern and celebrated with 10-cent tap beers.
“I don’t remember what he said, but it was probably something funny,” Ginny said.
Roger left active duty after Ellen was born and went into the Air National Guard.
Ginny became a teacher for the hearing impaired in the early ‘60s and taught for 15 years, and Roger became vice president of a petroleum marketing company. They retired in their late 40s, bought an Airstream travel trailer – which they knew nothing about – and moved to northern Wisconsin, where they built a chalet home at Lake Emily.
“We lived there half the year and traveled in the RV the other half,” Roger said, adding they logged more than 100,000 miles towing it behind them “making like tourists.”
In 1987 they sold the lake house and lived in their Airstream for two years before heading to Rainbow Springs near Ocala. During their 10 years there, the Zwiegs became avid golfers, and Roger started playing the saxophone in a combo that performed all over the area.
“I was his groupie,” Ginny said.
The couple moved to Ruskin in 1996 to be closer to the Kleinschmidts and their grandsons and finally to Sun City Center last year. Ginny was diagnosed with breast cancer that same year, had a mastectomy and became an advocate for breast cancer patients. She was recognized in 2001 by the American Cancer Society as Volunteer of the Year.
Over their years together the Zwiegs have found lots of ways to be together.
At different times they were licensed scuba divers, elder hostel travelers, organic farmers and “chalet” ice fishermen.
“We’d cut the holes, install the tip-ups and drink cocktails in our chalet until the flags popped up,” Roger said. “We made smoothies in the 1960s before they became popular and we made our own maple syrup.”
The secret to their marriage?
“Never go to bed mad,” Roger said. “We didn’t sleep once for two whole weeks...”
“And say a lot of ‘Yes, dears,’” Ginny added.
On a more serious note, they both agree marriage is a partnership, where two people should be treated as equals.
“If problems arise – and they do – you have to talk about them and work through them together,” said Roger. “There has to be respect. Don’t condemn, don’t criticize or complain. And most of all have fun.”