ANDREW, Iowa — When Ray and Avelda Bahr left their wedding, they took home the essentials for setting up a farm — 14 cows, several sows, farm equipment and a Singer sewing machine.
The gifts from Ray’s parents, Claus and Dora Bahr, set a foundation for the farm family at the start of what would become a 73-year marriage.
Avelda, daughter of August and Luella Hankemeyer, grew up in Andrew. Ray was from Spragueville, Iowa.
When two of their friends began seeing each other, Ray and Avelda met on a blind date. Neither remembers exactly what they did.
“Well, eventually, me and my wife got together,” Ray said, cutting to the important part of the story.
“On the fifth of February, 1946,” Avelda added, guessing that they might have seen a movie together.
The two were married on Sept. 20, 1948, at Salem Lutheran Church in Andrew. Avelda was 19, and Ray was 24.
It rained all day. Guests came in on mud roads, shucking their old coats as they entered the church.
“We left Andrew that evening about five,” Avelda said. “The sun was setting in the west, and (the rain) had cleared off.”
They only have eight pictures from the reception in the church basement, courtesy of a friend who had a camera and one roll of film. Their professional wedding portrait was taken in Bellevue.
The couple rented a farm near Spragueville, where they had the first two of their four children, Patricia Cornelius and Duane Bahr.
In 1952, Avelda was hospitalized in Iowa City with polio. She recovered from the illness after a month and rejoined Ray on the farm.
“We milked cows by hand and picked corn by hand,” Ray said.
For the first few years, they made loose hay before eventually buying a baler.
Their second spring, Ray’s mother gave them another gift — a flock of geese.
“She was great at raising poultry and thought I needed some,” Avelda said.
Over the years, Avelda raised chickens. At times, she had 200 pullets and 50 roosters.
In 1956, the Bahrs bought their own land in Cottonville, Iowa, and settled on a new farm. There, they had two more children, Galen Bahr and Joann Sieverding.
“The farming came before anything else,” Cornelius said.
The family attended Salem Lutheran Church, where Ray served on the church council and sang in the choir and Avelda was a member of the Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and taught Sunday school.
For years, Avelda sewed quilts for a church charity project and also volunteered with the Jackson County Historical Society. She also is a member of the Petal Pals Garden Club.
Once, Ray decided to surprise Avelda by making a cake. The cake turned out well, but his icing had too much milk and not enough powdered sugar. The family jokes that they could have drunk the icing.
In 1987, Ray and Avelda moved to Andrew and Galen took over the farm, though Ray still went out to the farm everyday. Galen died in 2001 in a motorcycle accident.
“Dad walked fences his entire life — walked fences for the cows and the farm,” Cornelius said.
Since then, Duane has taken over care of the farm and the family’s cattle.
Ray enjoyed wood work and made each of the nine grandchildren a cedar chest.
“The nine cedar chests were a big deal,” Cornelius said. “They all have them and use them and appreciate them.”
Today, Ray and Avelda also have 17 great-grandchildren. The typical game at a Bahr family gathering is Uno.
Cornelius describes her parents’ relationship as “unwavering.”
“We have a very good example in front of us,” Cornelius said of her parents.
The key to the relationship is love.
“Love draws everything together,” Ray said.