OSAGE | “Love Conquers All,” would best describe how Leslie and Suzi Thurnau survived a stormy start to their relationship, which has lasted well over 70 years.
Last fall, the couple celebrated their 70th anniversary with a big family dinner organized by their son, Aaron, and his wife, who live in St. Ansgar.
Looking back, it’s a miracle the marriage ever took place.
Suzi Grinstead, 88, was born in Osage.
“I was born in my grandmother’s house where Cooper Motors is now located,” she said. “I was raised with 12 siblings on a farm near Orchard. I was 13 years old when I first saw Leslie.”
A year and a half older than Suzi, Leslie, 90 was also raised on a farm northeast of Osage, where he attended Brownville Country School. He had two brothers, and two sisters. During his adolescence, he worked summers at Gardener Nursery in Osage. In 1944, at the age of 17, he joined the Navy.
A 1947 graduate of Osage High School, Suzi was also employed at Gardener Nursery during summers.
“The girls worked in the building, and the men worked outdoors,” she said. “I knew Leslie a little bit before, so I asked my boss if I could work in the fields too. They let some of us women go to the fields.”
“On our first date, we went to a movie at the Watts Theater, and I got her in for 15 cents,” Leslie said.
“We went together until he went to the service in 1945, and I was still was in school,” Suzi said.
During Leslie’s 24-month tour, with the Navy’s Seabees, he served in Okinawa, where he drove truck while the Seabees constructed a highway across the island. Later, he served six months aboard a LSM-430 Cargo Ship, while stationed in Shanghai. He returned home in 1947.
Suzi and Leslie were fond of each other, but other family members weren’t as thrilled about their relationship.
“While Suzi attended Orchard School, I used to drive through Orchard in the morning to see her. The principal found out and expelled her for two weeks for seeing me,” Leslie said.
“Yes, we had a hard time going together,” Suzi said.
“At first, her dad didn’t like me,” Suzi said. “He had been in the Navy and said he wouldn’t let any of his daughters marry a Navy man. He chased me off one time, but in later years, he got to like me.
“He didn’t want me seeing her, so I had a friend, who her dad liked, go pick her up, and we would meet and then she would go out with me.”
“My brothers ratted me out, and I caught the devil for that,” Suzi said with a smile. “Dad always said, ‘It will never last, and you will be sorry.’”
Despite some of the family’s disapproval, Suzi and Leslie were wed on Aug. 16, 1947 in Osage’s First Congregational Church. Because some of Suzi’s family strongly disapproved, her side of the family was sparsely represented at the ceremony.
After their vows, the couple experienced further challenges.
“When we were first married, we lived with his parents for about a year. I didn’t like that,” Suzi said. “We also had a hardship when we lived two years in a trailer house in Ottumwa. We didn’t have much, and when we came back to Osage, his mother would send home canned stuff for us to eat. That was the hardest time for us.”
Throughout the years, Leslie owned several businesses, including Thurnau Auto Repair, a service station, ran his own salvage yard, and in later years, the couple worked together producing lawn ornaments. Leslie also worked as a bus mechanic for Osage Community Schools, was a mechanic at Swann Implement, and drove truck for L R Falk.
Suzi was a stay-at-home mother when their three children Aaron, Lonnie and Crystal were younger. She then worked at Bob’s East End Grocery, in both the old and new Fox River knitting mills, and at Dollar General.
One of Leslie’s proudest accomplishments was winning the approval of his father-in-law.
“I think our oldest boy was three years old before dad came around, and then Leslie and he got along good,” Suzi said.
“I got in pretty good with him. He let me use his new car,” Leslie said.
What are the secrets to a long successful marriage?
“We danced together before we were married. That was our thing. We danced together in every place in Mitchell County,” Suzi said. “One night, we even danced at the Surf, where Johnny Cash sang. When Leslie got leg trouble, we had to stop.”
“First get married. When married, you should be together and not work apart from each other,” Suzi said. “I wanted to be with him, and I didn’t work when the kids were little.”
Leslie said, “The one you love is the one you should get married to. Even when I trucked, she went with me in the semi. I like her looks, her love, and being with her. Everywhere we go, she is with me."
“The Lord had to be with us. I even think about that today.” Suzi said, “The Lord has always been in our lives.”