Howard Heaton has one simple rule he has followed with his wife, Darlene, every day throughout their marriage.

“We never hesitate to tell each other we love each other. We don’t want a day to go by without that,” Howard said.

That rule led the couple to celebrate its 74th wedding anniversary with cake and flowers at the Spring Valley campus of the Perry Lutheran Home on May 11.

Darlene just laughed when asked if she expected to celebrate that many years together.

“It’s a pretty good number. But I see no reason not to go on. The good Lord will make that decision, I’m sure,” Howard said of making it to 75 years next year.

He started dating Darlene on a Saturday while they were in high school in Vinton, Iowa. Howard had to wait a bit before he took Darlene out as she was on a date with another guy on that Saturday night.

“I decided that was the night that I was going to show some interest in Darlene. I just knew then. Whatever it took to make that connection,” Howard said.

It was a good connection, as the pair were engaged before Howard left for basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia, right after high school. Darlene said they continued writing letters back and forth.

In one of the letters, Darlene said Howard asked her to come down to Georgia to get married before he went overseas.

“I don’t know if that was the smartest thing I ever did, but we did it and I never regretted it,” Howard said.

The pair were married on May 11, 1944, in Alabama. Howard then left to serve in World War II first in England, then France and Belgium.

He came back to the United States and the pair moved to Perry in 1961. They raised two children together, Marcia and Gary. Marcia now lives in Colorado Springs while Gary is in North Carolina.

They don’t have a secret formula as to why their marriage has lasted. Darlene said they have always gotten along. Howard added that they have always enjoyed each other.

“We went from one year to the next, expecting to go for whatever it took. I have no idea,” Howard said with his arm around his wife.

Darlene just laughed as she looked at her husband of 74 years.

“But we expected to continue for some time. And evidently, much longer than we expected,” Howard said.