This Valentine’s Day, couples everywhere have this duo to inspire them.
Every February, Amber and Sylvester “Syl” Otke celebrate Valentine’s Day and their anniversary. This February, they are celebrating their 75th anniversary, a milestone few couples get to see, and their 75th Valentine’s Day as Mr. and Mrs. Otke.
“Seventy-five years. That’s a long time, but you don’t think about it. You’re just living your life and enjoying it,” said Amber, 93.
After all these years, they spend a lot of time together and they still like each other. They interact with affection, respect and kindness. They also share a sense of humor. They said of their marriage: “I think it’ll work out.”
During their lives together, they have lived mostly out of state, but also in St. Louis, Florissant and Warrenton.
Their love story began Oct. 10, 1939. They were strangers among a group of church friends going to see the Veiled Prophet Parade in downtown St. Louis. He was 18 and she was 16.
Syl, 95, said he spotted Amber in the crowd and wanted to talk to her, but he wasn’t sure how to start a conversation.
To this day, Amber remembers the words he found that became the first words he ever spoke to her: “You’d better watch out or you’re going to get run over by a horse.”
That evening Syl walked Amber home and asked her on a date. They dated steadily and exclusively but then Syl broke Amber’s heart.
“At one point I decided to take other girls out,” Syl said.
He wasn’t sure what he was looking for, he just knew he needed the time.
Amber let him go and it was a painful time because she had thought they were so good together.
It wasn’t long before he found his way back to Amber.
“I missed her and I knew she was the one,” he said. They found themselves alone one night and he pulled her close.
“He said ‘Come over here where you belong’ and he asked me to marry him,” Amber said.
They planned a June wedding, but then came the attack on Pearl Harbor and the start of World War II, plans changed. A lot of things changed. They married Feb. 1, 1942, and then Syl went off to serve in the Army Air Corps.
During the war, he was a hydraulics specialist. Amber went to work on military aircraft as well, as a “Rosie the Riveter” on the Curtiss C-46 Commando.
After the war, Syl worked for McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing). He remembers when James McDonnell patted him on the back to say hello after a long absence and said: “That’s the problem with getting bigger, I don’t get around to seeing the guys anymore.”
Working on airplanes was what Syl wanted to do from the time he was a child. When Amber was young, she had dreams of being a housewife and mother. In finding each other, they both have lived the lives they wanted.
The couple have three adult children, Judy, Sylva and Steve and four grandchildren. Judy, of Kirkwood, will soon celebrate her own 50th wedding anniversary.
Syl retired in 1978, allowing them time with family and to travel the world by car, air and Airstream. It also gave them time for new hobbies. Early on, Syl would fish and Amber would read while he fished. One day she tried fishing and Syl told her: “You’ll never know how much it means to have you fishing with me.”
With that, Amber said, she started fishing.
Near the time of his retirement, too, the couple decided to move. Amber had been talking about living in a log house in the country. Things at their Florissant home needed repair.
“Rather than repair them, he said, ‘Why don’t you forget about it, Baby, and I’ll build us that log home,’” Amber said.
At the age of 65, Syl built their log home in Warrenton.
The couple has made marriage look simple, but they say even they have had hard times.
“You can’t live together without fighting,” Amber said. “One time he said, ‘If you don’t like it, you can leave.’ I said, ‘I can’t leave, I have too much stuff here.’ ”
The fight ended and the making up began.
Amber said, “The making up is fun.”
They lived in the log home for almost 30 years. It’s harder to get around, so they moved into an apartment in a assisted living community.
They say their marriage has been successful because they are committed to each other. They respect each other. They discuss and approach matters and money as a team. And they don’t keep secrets.
In short, there’s no room for selfishness in marriage.
“You accept each other the way they are. I used to think I could change him a little bit, but you can’t,” Amber said. “Just love them.”
When it comes to her 75-year marriage, Amber said, “I’d do it all over again.”