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Morning Sun
  • PATRICK'S PEOPLE: Babe and Short Willey have been married for 72 years

  • Chrystle “Short” and Annabelle “Babe” Willey have exactly opposite ideas about why they have been happily married for 72 years.



    When asked his secret to a long and happy marriage, Willey replied, “Just let a woman have her way.”



    But Mrs. Willey’s answer is, “I guess it’s just because I always let him have his own way.”

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  • Chrystle “Short” and Annabelle “Babe” Willey have exactly opposite ideas about why they have been happily married for 72 years.
    When asked his secret to a long and happy marriage, Willey replied, “Just let a woman have her way.”
    But Mrs. Willey’s answer is, “I guess it’s just because I always let him have his own way.”
    Annabelle Lakey and Chrystle Short were married Sept. 11, 1940, in Mulberry, where they made their home and raised their family.
    According to Short, it was pretty much love at first sight when he saw the pretty girl with blue eyes and long blonde hair.
    “Her hair was so long she had to pull it out of the way to sit down,”  he said. “She told me her mother used to brush it on the porch.”
    The first night he saw her, she was with her brother, and the second night she  stayed overnight at a girlfriend’s house.
    “I walked her down to her girlfriend’s house,” Willey said. “We started going together.”
    It was not a wild courtship.
    “Her dad, Clemith Eli Lakey, was a preacher and the only place she could go was church,” Willey said. “There were no carnivals, no ball games and no dances. She lived in Camp 10 and I lived pretty near Arcadia. I’d walk down to her house, and it was about six miles each way.”
    After the wedding they lived in Camp 10, which was one mile west of Mulberry.
    “We lived in one room with a pantry and screened-in porch with her folks,” Willey said. “We had an orange crate we put in a north window, and that was our refrigerator.”
    There were adjustments he had to make.
    “She’d always gone to church and I hadn’t,” Willey said. “I’d drank, but she put a stop to that in two weeks.”
    In his younger days he had been in the Civilian Conservation Corps.
    “I was at the Farlington Camp and we built the lake,” Willey said. “At West Mineral we leveled dumps so they could put in orchards. At Pocahontas, Ark., we cleared out timber so they could put in roads.”
    He was also with CCC at Custer, S.D., where he helped build shelters in parks.
    “They were just starting to put up derricks to cut Mount Rushmore when I was there,” Willey said.
    He later worked for Clifford Carr in the coal pits loading coal at Croweburg, then for the Victory Coal Company, which was seven or eight miles north of Crowburg. In 1942 they moved to Kansas City and Willey went into construction work for Midwest Pre-Coat and Paving. He was a labor foreman during construction of the Kansas City Airport and Worlds of Fun.
    Page 2 of 2 - They left Kansas City in 1972 and Willey was a superintendent for Bill’s Coal Company until he retired in 1980. The couple moved to Arma in 1984.
    A son, Eli Willey, and his partner Nick Reid, San Diego, Calif., moved to the area a year ago and enjoy helping care for the couple.
    “Babe’s such a quilter,” her son said.
    “I don’t want to brag on them,” she replied.
    But Eli Willey had no problem praising his mother’s homemade dumplings and noodles.
    “She could make noodles with  her eyes shut,” he said. “She made the best pie crust. The secret is that you don’t put water in the pie crust, you use room-temperature 7-Up, which makes the crust flaky. That was a secret she got from friends who ran the M &M Cafe in Mulberry years ago.”
    There were six in her family, and Mrs. Willey still has a brother living in Joplin and a sister in Arkansas. Willey has a brother in Texas and a sister in Pittsburg.
    “We take them to Joplin every couple of weeks to see her brother,” Reid said. “He was a patient at St. John’s Medical Center when the tornado hit and had to be medivaced to Springfield.”
    Eli Willey and Reid also take the couple out to eat in Pittsburg and Girard.
    In earlier days the couple took longer trips, including visiting their son and Reid in San Diego. One favorite trip included the Grand Ol’ Opry, the Smoky Mountains and Loretta Lynn’s house.
    “When we were at Loretta’s house, there was her husband, Moony, out saddling a horse,” Willey said. “He was wearing old run-over boots like he didn’t have a penny.”
    Their other children are a son, Virgil Willey, Garland, and a daughter, Kay Worsley, Arma. There are four grandchildren.
    Mrs. Willey is now at the Arma Care Center, in a comfortable room painted in her favorite colors, yellow and violet.
    “You can’t believe the staff here, how nice they are,” said Eli Willey, who volunteers to help with crafts at the center.
    Willey still lives at  home, but he and his wife are not apart. He comes to the center every day to be with her, accompanied by their faithful dog Sadie, who has learned exactly where Babe’s room is.

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