After a visit with Duryea and Arleen Warn, it's easy to feel as though you have friends for life in the Ceres couple.
Today happens to be a most special day to the Warns: It was 68 years ago today that the couple walked down the aisle together and committed their lives together. From 1946 on, the Warns have something that few couples experience: A long married life of contentment with only an occasion squabble. Their easy-going nature and sense of humor have earned them marital longevity in an era when the divorce rate is nearly 50 percent.
Chance meeting at MJC
The couple met at Modesto Junior College after World War II. The two first saw each other when Duryea (pronounced ‘durr-A') was sitting in a car with friends and Arleen strolled by. Arleen remembers thinking Duryea was actually his younger brother, Dale, who also grew up in her native Turlock.
"I said, ‘Hi Dale.' It wasn't Dale and then they all laughed at me and I blushed," said Arleen.
Duryea was struck by her smile and long red hair that flowed down her back.
"I've always loved red hair," said Duryea.
Something sparked between the two. They dated and were married on Duryea's birthday - today he turns 93 - at a Methodist church on South Broadway Avenue in Turlock across the street from what is now Turlock City Hall. A parking lot is all that occupies the site now.
They first lived in a house on Seventh Street in Ceres built during the post-war housing boom and today live a block to the west on Sixth Street.
"We've come a long way from Seventh Street," jokes Duryea.
Redhead stereotype not true
In time he learned that the old saying that redheads have a hot temper was not true in Arleen's case. He said his wife has a rather "docile" side and that fights are rare.
But Arleen remembers once when a fight during her child-rearing days sent an upset Arleen packing her bags - just for one night as it would turn out.
"I went home to daddy and mommy one night," she said. "They let me stay the night and the next day at the breakfast table my Dad says, ‘What seems to be the trouble?' and I looked at him and cried, ‘I don't know.' And he said, ‘I suggest you go home and talk to your husband.' So that was my one escape."
The couple started having children in 1947, the same year Duryea started a job at the Ceres Post Office. They had three sons - Steve, Richard and Jeff.
In the genes?
It's apparent in watching the two interact, that they are as fun-loving and playful as when they first met.
"Doesn't she look great for 87?" asks Duryea, placing his hand on hers.
Arlene freezes in aghast and protests: "I am not 87 ... yet. Not until January."
Duryea needles her with more banter: "Well, let's see" as he trails off doing some mental math that ends in a teasing chuckle and smile.
Still spry and tinkering around the property, Duryea flexes his bicep to prove he has solid muscle wrapped in that 93-year-old forearm. How does he stay in such good shape and sound mind at an age that few men see? He does a lot of walking and eats a lot of vegetables, he says.
"It must be in the genes," said Arlene. "We don't drink. I have a six-pack of beer the whole summer and that's a half a beer at the time with somebody else that's here."
Duryea's mother lived to be 98.
Arlene grew up on a dairy in Turlock on the site of the new hospital in Turlock on W. Christoffersen Parkway at North Golden State Boulevard.
Duryea was also raised in Turlock, on Vermont Avenue.
Duryea survives WWII
The fact that Duryea lived through the war to ever meet Arleen is a defiance of the odds. Duryea served three years in the Army's Ninth Air Force during World War II. As a tail-gunner on B-26 bombers who carried out 25 missions over England, France, Germany and Belgium, Duryea survived Nazi ground-to-air flak and two crash landings. The first crash occurred when rounds strafed the plane and disabled the front landing gear and the pilot resorted to landing on two wheels.
"We had a good pilot and of course he came in slow as he could, flaps down, and then he let the nose rub on the runway. Then we got out and jumped out across the wings."
Warn's second crash on Feb. 24, 1945 was caused when flak from German 88 mm guns damaged the plane's hydraulic system. The pilot landed the plane on its belly but a harrowing experience followed when a second plane nearly collided with it while on the runway. The navigator of that plane, Kenneth T. Brown, wrote about the Roye-Ami, France crash in his book, "Marauder Man."
Postal career begins
A year after their wedding, in 1947, Duryea began a 33-year career with the Ceres Post Office. In those days the post office was located in the same building as the old Ceres drug store located at the northwest corner of Fourth and Lawrence streets. Jack Gondring was postmaster at the time and Duryea remembers the soda fountain that town druggist Claude "Bud" McKnight operated inside.
"Bud was a really nice, nice man," recalls Arleen.
"He was Roger Strange's mentor," added Duryea. Strange took over Ceres Drug from McKnight and moved it to its present location on Fourth Street. The business is now owned by pharmacist Ted Smernes.
In the 1950s the post office also moved north on Fourth Street opposite the drug store. In fact, the old post office digs is identifiable by the embedded American eagle emblem gracing the top of the façade.
"Every day it was fun and exciting," Duryea said of the postal job. "I was always meeting new people. I was on the counter quite a bit and I was out on the route."
Occasionally, when he was brimming with mischief, Duryea would grab the hand of an unsuspecting patron reaching into a mailbox to pull out mail.
"I'd reach in and scare them. People have forgotten that, I guess. It was fun."
Such antics would probably result in a lawsuit today.
In the 1940s, mail was delivered to Ceres by train and Duryea's job was to go the short distance to the Ceres railroad depot in the morning to pick up incoming bags. In the evening he would take outgoing mail to the depot, which was located west of 99 and north of what is now the Pine Street overpass.
Porters would toss bags of mail out onto the depot dock as the train zipped by.
In order to send mail on its way, Warn had to attach the mail bag on a pole near the track. As the train rolled by an employee would throw up a hook to catch the mail and scoop it into the mail car. If the bag broke open, mail would be scattered along the tracks for a long distance and Warn would have to go pick it up.
For a sleepy town of 2,000, only four people worked the Ceres post office then. There were no letter carriers as everyone had to come down and fetch it out of their own postal box.
One eventful week in 1958
The Warns remember one eventful week in 1958. On Oct. 1 that year, a disaster occurred just outside Hendy's in the days when 99 resembled today's South Ninth Street. In 1958 a crash between a passenger car and a fully-loaded gas tanker rocked downtown in a massive explosion that was talked about for years.
"It (fuel) went down the drains and blew up manholes," remembers Duryea.
The very next day, on Oct. 2, 1958, assistant Ceres postmaster Ellsworth Bickell walked to the rear of the loading dock to light a cigarette and dropped dead from a heart attack.
Warn was content in his job and didn't want to succeed into Bickell's position.
The post office later moved to the building now housing the Ceres Library before it relocated to its present location on Mitchell Road.
Ceres of long ago
The Warns' home was once occupied by William Henderson, owner of the legendary Hendy's Drive-In. Removed from the Ceres landscape due to the widening of 99 into a freeway in the 1960s, the drive-in was a local hang-out straight out of American graffiti. Duryea was related to Henderson by marriage.
"Everybody would remember it," said Arlene. "Well, the old-timers, anyway."
Duryea remembers a number of downtown businesses that since have disappeared. There was Wendell Aspinall's hardware store and Mae's Café. Arleen's uncle, Stuart Buck operated a Piggly Wiggly grocery store in downtown Ceres.
"He made ice in the back in big vats," said Arleen. "I was scared to death to go in there. He took it out, cut it up, put his two Saint Bernard dogs in back of his pickup and delivered ice to Ceres and Keyes. But nobody would remember that."
‘I liked the kids'
After their boys were raised, Arleen went to work for Ceres schools for 15 years. She started out as a part-time attendance secretary at Walter White School and then became full-time. Arleen also worked at Caswell Elementary School and Mae Hensley Junior High School.
Mrs. Warn served as secretary to principals Ray Baltz and Jack Davis.
"It was great because I liked kids," said Arleen. "Even now some of the kids still remember. I volunteer at Memorial (Medical Center) once a week and every once in a while somebody will come in and say, ‘Mrs. Warn!' and get a great big hug from them. It's really nice."
Arleen retired in 1980. She enjoys volunteering four-hour shifts in the hospital gift shop along with Ceres friend Lavon Lasky.
"When people come in sometimes they just want to talk and we listen to them. It's really a neat thing."
The death of son Richard about in 2008 was a hard blow. Friends gave Arleen some money after his death so Arleen bought some chimes. When the wind blows and creates the soft tones, she thinks of her son. "All of us say Richard's here. It's wonderful. So anyway, there aren't any broken hearts or anything else. It's just accepting the way things are. We can't change it and you can't feel sorry for yourself."
Duryea dabbles in his garage and still enjoys playing the piano and organ.
They also keep up on their son Steve and daughter in law Dianne who are missionaries in Africa. There's also Jeff and his wife, Robin. There are the great-grandchildren who they say keep them young.
It's hard to say if Ceres has benefitted most from the Warns or if the Warns had benefitted most from being a part of Ceres. But I suspect it might be equally true right down the middle.