In June, L. Max and Wanda Gardner Thatcher, of the Solomonville Ward, Safford Arizona Stake, celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.
Married in the Mesa Arizona Temple on June 21, 1946, the Thatchers have seven children, 31 grandchildren, 80 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.
Max’s family had farmed in Eden, Arizona, for many years, but when it became difficult to make a living on the farm, the family moved to California just before Max was born in 1924.
A short time later, they returned to the Gila Valley, where Max grew up.
He left the area to join the infantry during World War II and was at Omaha Beach after the initial landing on D-Day. Max also was in Paris, Belgium, Luxembourg and, finally, Germany, where he worked at the post office for five months after occupation.
After the War, Max met Wanda Gardner at a dance at the Armory in Safford.
“He always said it was love at first sight,” says their daughter Jolene Smith, a member of the Cooper Ward, Mesa South Stake.
Still, in those post-War years, planning a wedding had some challenges.
“Due to the recession, fabric was rationed and white fabric was very hard to find. My grandmother bought a fourth of a WWII parachute and made my mother’s dress out of that parachute,” Jolene says.
That certainly didn’t dampen Max’s impression of her.
“Dad tells us all the time, ‘Your mother is as beautiful today as the day I married her.’ He’s always telling her how much he loves her and how beautiful she is,” says Jolene.
The Thatchers’ seven children were raised on a farm.
“We lived on Grandpa Gardner’s farm growing up, so we got up early and did lots of chores,” Jolene says. “Dad had cows he got up and milked and he’d bring the milk in to Mom to strain it and get it ready to drink.”
“Our mother made our clothes for us. We had chickens, goats and rabbits and a big orchard. We kept busy with chores; we hardly ever were sitting or watching TV,” Jolene adds.
Much of their extended family lived nearby, so “every Sunday all of the family would eat at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.”
Max worked the farm for 15 years before taking a job at the University of Arizona extension farm, where he worked for 24 years.
After Max retired, the couple served a mission together to Peoria, Illinois.
“They came back and served a temple mission for several years, driving to Mesa every week, where they had rented a place by the temple. They worked a couple of days a week and then would head back to Safford,” says Jolene.
Then, after the Gila Valley Temple opened, the Thatchers worked in that temple for some time.
“Mom is still a regular temple-goer. Dad has a harder time, so only goes a couple of times a year,” Jolene says.
Their example of gospel service was coupled with frequent declarations of their testimonies.
“Our parents bore their testimonies in church and in Family Home Evening, and, now, they bear their testimony almost every time we go to their home to visit,” Jolene says.
Over the years, Max kept a journal, recording a bit of his personal history every day. He also had a keen interest and knowledge of local history and, earlier this year, was presented with the Heritage Award at the annual meeting of the Graham County Historical Society.
“They are still pretty active for their age. Dad still has a big garden he takes care of and they still go to church every Sunday,” Jolene says.
Best of all, after 70 years, “they still take care of each other,” she says.