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Celebrating 75 years: Rodney and Leota Dillon of Hastings had some very humble beginnings and now prepare to celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary

Rodney and Leota Dillon pose for a photo in the living room of their Hastings residence. They will celebrate their anniversary on Saturday with friends and family. Star Gazette photo by Chad Richardson

Rodney and Leota Dillon are proof that there’s a lot more to a marriage than just a wedding.

Their wedding, almost 75 years ago now, couldn’t have been any more humble.

On Tuesday, April 25, 1939, the two had decided to get married. They had to make the trip from Keystone, S.D., to Custer, S.D., to get their marriage license, but neither had a car. Their friend (nicknamed Little Hoot) agreed to drive them to the courthouse to get things under way.

License in hand, they went to a minister’s house and asked that he marry them on the spot. Problem was, they only had one witness – that guy named Little Hoot.

No problem, the minister told them. He knew of a lady next door who would probably be able to come over.

The minister went to ask the woman if she’d be able to witness the wedding. She told them she was in the middle of baking a batch of cookies and that they’d have to wait until the cookies came out of the oven.

“Here she came a few minutes later with a plate of cookies,” Leota Dillon said.

That night, the two had rented a small cabin to celebrate. They ate a can of VanCamp’s Pork and Beans as their wedding supper and embarked on a truly marvelous journey together.

They’ll celebrate their big anniversary this weekend with family and friends in Hastings, where they’ve lived now for eight years.

There was no way they could have ever imagined that, from those humble beginnings, they’d have made it this far.

For starters, Rodney’s mother thought the marriage had no chance.

“She gave it six months,” he said.

As if that weren’t enough, Leota’s father despised Rodney.

“We had a rough time,” Rodney said. “Her dad just hated my guts, and he hated my guts when he died.”

Leota’s father had some guys in mind for his daughter, and it’s safe to say that Rodney wasn’t one of them.

“They were all for us,” Rodney said sarcastically. “You could see that.”

If they could only see the two now. They’ve traveled back and forth across the United States countless times. They worked hard, played hard, lived in Florida for 30-plus years, raised three children and won at the game of life.

That challenging start, you could say, paved the way for what lay ahead.

Rodney couldn’t find work except in the mines of South Dakota, and that wasn’t the kind of work he wanted as a career. He’d take some odd jobs here and there, including a two-day stint at a sawmill. He got paid two rabbits for his work. They once spent six months picking fruit in Washington state.

They didn’t know it at the time, but things really started to look up when Rodney joined the Army. He served overseas during World War II. When he returned, he put the GI Bill to good use and learned to be a cabinet maker. He and Leota eventually worked together in the cabinet business and did very well for themselves.

One summer they decided to get a camper and travel west. They spent weeks on the road with their children and when they got back, Leota got to work to figure out how much the trip had cost them. She learned it was cheaper to travel with the camper than it was to stay home with the big house.

They sold out, eventually got themselves a 35-foot travel trailer, and set off.

“That’s really when we started enjoying life,” Rodney said.

How they met

Rodney and Leota each spent their youth in western South Dakota.

His family was well-known in the area. In fact, Dillon Pass in the Badlands is named after his grandfather.

Leota’s father and a few family members were among the scores of men carving Mount Rushmore at about the same time.

Anyway, Rodney eventually started a small souvenir shop in Keystone, just three miles away from Mount Rushmore.

Leota was living in Keystone, working from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. every day for $1. The best part of each day was the 30-minute break she got at noon. During that break, she’d grab the newspaper, sit in a little courtyard and get caught up with the world.

One of those days, Rodney saw her out there in the rose garden. He turned his dog Ginger loose on her, and the rest is history.

“I said ‘Sic her Ginger!’” he said. “He went through the screen (door) and tore her newspaper apart. That’s how we met.”

Hastings ties

Rodney and Leota had three children, Jerold, William and Linwood.

Lin married Maureen Schommer of Hastings, and the two have lived here for more than 30 years.

Eight years ago, after Jerold died of cancer, Rodney and Leota moved to Hastings to be close to Lin and Maureen.