Frank and Charlotte Richards, both 96, have big plans this weekend.
On Saturday they’ll put on their Sunday best and go out for a family dinner at Lydia's Supper Club.
But the dinner won’t be an ordinary family outing. Instead, it will be the couple’s 75th wedding anniversary and the celebration of a relationship that seems ripped from the pages of a Butte West Side Story.
Frank and Charlotte’s love story starts at Butte High School with the simple offering of a cookie.
As the couple’s son Dave Richards tells the story, Charlotte was in home economics class when she saw Frank walk by and offered him a cookie from the batch the class had baked.
“He liked her cookies,” said Dave, laughing.
From there the relationship blossomed, and soon Frank and Charlotte were taking rides together in Frank’s ’31 Ford Model A.
“He’d come to the house and he’d honk, and I’d run out and we’d ride around,” said Charlotte.
According to Dave, Charlotte’s parents were uneasy about the relationship.
Frank was Catholic, which didn’t sit well with Charlotte’s father and mother, who sent their daughter to a business college in California, perhaps hoping the relationship would run its course. That, of course, didn’t work.
As for Frank, he didn’t have an easy childhood.
He grew up on East Galena Street, the son of Lebanese immigrants.
“Are you asking me if it was rough in Butte? Cabbage Patch was rough,” said Frank, referring to the infamous slum neighborhood.
Frank’s father died when Frank was just 6, leaving his mother, who didn’t speak English, to raise Frank and his three siblings on her own.
Sadly, three years later, Frank’s mother died, and for a time Frank lived in an orphanage in Helena.
Charlotte, meanwhile, grew up on West Galena Street.
“I lived on the West Side where everybody was rich,” Charlotte said, adding that her dad had a restaurant, the Grand Silver.
Despite their different backgrounds, Frank and Charlotte’s relationship flourished.
Charlotte said she and Frank had been dating for about three years when one day she asked him to marry her. He took about a minute to say “yes,” and Charlotte said it was the longest minute of her life.
As the story goes, Frank and Charlotte eloped on a 30 below zero day in January.
Charlotte’s parents were going to church, and Charlotte said that she didn’t feel well and wanted to stay home. But in reality, she and Frank planned to get married.
“Frank came at about 8 o’clock (that night) with his two brothers. And I had everything packed and in the closet. So we took everything out and we went to the judge.”
By all accounts, the man that Charlotte married was a hard worker.
After graduating high school, Frank worked in the Belmont Mine for two-and-a-half years and served two years in the military when World War II broke out.
“(When I) came back, I didn’t want no part of the mines,” said Frank. “I got a little piece of (land) by the Big Hole River, took Charlotte down there to this little cabin, no electricity, no nothing. And we could see the stars at any time through the roof.”
For 60 years the couple carved out a living on a ranch near Glen, along the Big Hole River, where they raised sons Dave and Bob and daughter Mary, starting with 160 acres and just two dairy cows.
“That’s what they lived on — cream money,” said Dave.
Over the years the couple acquired two additional 160 acres. Dairy cows were eventually replaced with Hereford and Black Angus cattle. And by the time Frank retired, about 20 years ago, the family had 300 head of cattle.
Frank says growing his business to those proportions didn’t happen overnight.
“It took 60 years,” he said. “Just like going up a ladder, little by little.”
One year the family’s herd didn’t produce enough calves. To support his family, Frank returned to the Butte mines, working the graveyard shift by night and returning home during the day to work on the ranch.
Like her husband, Charlotte worked hard to survive.
She washed diapers in a nearby creek and boiled them on a wood stove during the couple’s early days in the cabin under the stars. She also made cheese, yogurt and other food to feed the family.
Despite the rough lifestyle, Charlotte and Frank said their time on the ranch was among the best years of their lives.
In addition to raising their children on the ranch, they also formed lifelong friendships there with people from all over the U.S. who visited the Big Hole to fish on a parcel of Montana paradise.
A story about a 75th wedding anniversary wouldn’t be complete without one quintessential question: How does one make a marriage last for 75 years?
Charlotte jokes that she and Frank made their relationship last because Frank was never at home.
“He was always out in the fields,” she said. “Up at 5 o’clock, back at 7 for breakfast, out until noon, and he’d come for lunch and then for dinner and then out probably until midnight.”
But all joking aside, Charlotte says what has made their marriage work is that Frank is a good man and father.
Dave, who’s been married for 45 years, says he’s inspired by his parents’ relationship.
“And the way they’ve raised their kids,” he said. “With principle, honor, integrity.”
“It was a good life,” said Charlotte. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”