The answer to 63 years of happy marriage is simple to John and Nina Dopko.
“She’d always say ‘Let’s not argue, let’s get to work’,” John, 90, says while leaning back and holding Nina’s hand at the Northland Pioneer Lodge.
“There’s no time to argue, we’ve got lots of work to do!”
That approach seems to have worked for the couple, who have kept busy throughout their marriage by cultivating a farm, managing a large garden, raising five kids and always making time to dance.
“I loved dancing,” Nina said, recalling the dance her and John shared at their 50th and 60th anniversaries.
The couple is happy to spend what is their 63rd Valentine’s Day together, but say their anniversary was always more important to them.
“The kids had Valentine’s parties, they wanted to celebrate, and they had a Valentine’s Day in Makwa, but the anniversary was a bigger thing in our life,” John said. “Just about every year we had a little party, but when it came to the 50th and 60th, it was outstanding.”
The Dopkos currently live at Northland Pioneer Lodge in Meadow Lake, and have spent a good chunk of their lives here.They met in Saskatoon when they served as bridesmaid and best man at John’s sister’s wedding.
The rest is history.
“We went together from about October to June, then we got married,” John stated simply.
While it was more than 60 years ago, John vividly recalls some of the couple’s first dates.
“I took her to a place called Wertz Confectionary in Saskatoon, and I thought it was a good deal when we got a banana split, with about 3 or 4 scoops of ice cream for 35 cents each,” he said. “That was a bargain.”
The couple lived in Saskatoon for about a year before moving to Plunkett, SK in the 1950s. They farmed there until 1958, but found the land to have substandard soil.
“Nina’s parents figured we had poor land, no water, we were struggling, so they said we’d find you some better land in the Meadow Lake area,” John said. “Which they did.”
The Dopkos moved to Makwa with their five kids and farmed there until 1992, when they moved to Meadow Lake.
Although their kids no longer live in town, their sons still visit regularly with Chinese food and fresh fish, and their daughters visit with a traditional dish from their Ukrainian background: perogies.
“Our daughter still makes perogies, and the perogies come to Meadow Lake,” John said proudly. “They even go to San Francisco.”
John, a veteran of the Second World War who served in the airforce from 1940 to 1946, feels fortunate to have reached his age. But he does miss the good old days.
One of the Dopko’s favourite hobbies in their heyday was dancing.
“We had about 10 or 12 couples, we’d go to a dance in the Red Bar near Edmonton,” he recalled. “We’d go dance at Goodsoil, we’d go dance all over the place, and nobody got drunk.
The Dopkos had a chance to relive a slice of their past at their 50th and 60th anniversaries.
“At the 50th we had a good dance,” John said. “It was at the Meadow Lake Civic Centre, and we had all our kids there, and all the people from Makwa, it was a good crowd.”
And although the Dopkos still have friends in the area, it’s not as easy to organize a night out dancing, least of all because of Nina’s wheelchair and struggles with dementia.
“Here we still have good people, but no one wants to dance anymore,” John said with a laugh.
But not everything from the Dopko’s past is remembered fondly. John recalled the grueling work that needed to be done at his farm, all without mechanical help.
“We used to shovel grain by hand,” he said. “Now you have a machine to vacuum it all up.”
Fortunately, he always had Nina by his side to help.
“She stuck right with me, whether it was baling hay, we did it all by hand,” he said. “There were no front end loaders.”
As for Nina’s explanation as to why she stuck with him all these years?
It turns out the answer for ‘why’ does not come as easily as the answer for ‘how.’
“I thought he was handsome … I don’t know, we just stuck together,” Nina said.