Sometimes a love story is so good and lasts so long, you’ve just got to tell it. Such is the story of Darby and Yvette Downey.
Darby Downey was born May 30, 1918, in La Porte, Indiana, to Alden and Edna Downey during the 1918 flu pandemic that swept the globe in what is still one of the deadliest disease outbreaks in recorded history.
It is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus, and the number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide, with about 675,000 occurring in the United States.
Thankfully, Darby’s family wasn’t touched by the illness and the young boy grew up healthy and strong. In the winter he enjoyed sledding and ice skating, and in the summer loved to roller skate. Darby didn’t spend all of his time playing, however. He worked hard cutting ice at the local ice house and also ran a paper route.
Tragedy struck the Downey family when Darby — the fifth of nine children — was 9 years old. His 11-year-old sister Isabelle died of double pneumonia, leaving his father, a tool and diemaker, and his mother, brokenhearted. Time has a way of healing all wounds, however, and Darby continued to grow into a fine young man. After graduating high school, he went to work as a surveyor.
Yvette A. Bullock was born June 8, 1922, in Chester, Illinois. She was the oldest of four children. She enjoyed life growing up and helped her mom with her younger sisters. Like Darby’s mother, Yvette’s mother was a stay-at-home mom who sewed the girls’ clothing and quilted.
Yvette’s dad was a prison guard at the Chester State Hospital, a prison for the criminally insane. It was a political job. When the Republicans were elected, Republicans were hired. When the Democrats were elected, Democrats were hired. The workers lost their jobs each time a different political party won the election.
When Yvette, who went by the nickname “Y”, was in the sixth grade, her dad lost his job following the election. The Bullocks had family in Marion, Illinois, so they moved there, and Y’s father got a job driving a coal truck.
After graduating high school, Y worked as a waitress at the local café. Meanwhile, the prison/mental health system changed. People were no longer at the mercy of election results. They were hired after passing a civil service exam. Her father passed the test and moved the family back to Chester where he went to work at the state hospital again, but Y stayed in Marion.
Working for a survey company that moved him to Marion, Darby and Y met at the café where she worked. He asked her out several times, but her rule was “don’t date the clientele!” It was a chance meeting that brought the two together one evening at the county fair. Y and a friend were there, and Darby asked them if they would ride some rides with him. The pair enjoyed the evening so much that she ended up breaking her long-standing rule and the couple began dating.
After eight months, Darby was transferred with his survey crew to Decatur, Illinois. The couple said their goodbyes and he left town. After just a week, however, Darby borrowed a friend’s car and he drove back to Marion where he proposed to Y. They were married in Perryville, Missouri, with a reception following at her parents’ home in Chester.
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When World War II broke out, Darby tried to enlist after two of his brothers enlisted in the Navy, but he was refused because of a bad eye. Then, in August 1942, Darby was drafted and served his country escorting new recruits across country by train to other Army bases for training.
For a time, he was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, which at the time was being used as a POW camp. Darby was in charge of eight captured German soldiers, with the responsibility of watching them on base while they spent the day performing hard labor as members of a work crew. Wherever Darby was stationed, Y would move there, rent an apartment and find a job so she could be with him.
Shipped to the secured island of Ie Shima, Japan, Darby’s unit was tasked with the responsibility of keeping it in American hands. When he shipped out, Y went back to Chester to live with her parents and young brother who still lived at home. While Darby was away, the couple’s first child, Jean A. Downey, was born Jan. 28, 1945.
After the war was over, Darby once again secured work as a surveyor — this time with an oil exploration company. The family had frequent moves with the company, mostly in the west. When winter hit, they moved out of the snowy states to California, or other places out west where they could work all winter.
On Aug. 1, 1953, the couple’s son, Ross L. Downey, was born in Gunnison, Utah. After his birth, Y continued to be a stay-at-home mom, making fresh homemade cookies and cakes for friends who stopped by.
Darby secured work with the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) and the family moved to Flat River where he helped survey and stake out much of the St. Louis highway infrastructure used today. He worked for MoDOT from 1961 until he retired in 1983. After the children were grown, Y worked for Lloyd Vanderpool at Allied Van Lines in Flat River.
Whenever they moved over the years, the couple devoted themselves to serving God and they made it a top priority to find a church to attend in their new “hometown.” They served as Sunday school teachers. Darby, an ordained deacon, often led the singing while Y always sang in the choir. Both of them were willing to serve in any capacity where they were needed.
Following Darby’s retirement at the age of 65, he and Y took an active role in Vacation Bible School and attended Bates Creek Baptist Camp in Potosi where they served as youth counselors for about 22 years. The couple loved young people and worked diligently to lead teenagers to a knowledge of Christ.
Darby and Y have seven grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and a great-great-grandchild.
On June 2, 2018, their children and spouses — Roger and Jeannie Lewis; and Ross and Debbie (Franklin) Downey — hosted a combination birthday/anniversary party for the couple at the senior center in Park Hills.
At the event attended by about 300 guests, the couple celebrated several impressive milestones. Darby, who is 100 years old, and Y who is 96, have been married 76 years. The couple was recognized by the Missouri House of Representatives with a resolution signed by District 117 Rep. Mike Henderson and District 116 Rep. Kevin Engler.