Devotion over decades: Pictures of a perfect marriage

Leonard Lawrence Pupkes, 86, and Esther Annette Jewett Pupkes, 84, died hours apart.

Last year, when Minnesota was consumed with a debate over marriage in all its flavors, people in the online news business almost always chose the same visual element to depict marriage — young, vibrant people (sometimes of the same gender, sometimes not) with their happy futures ahead of them.

Say “marriage,” and that’s the picture most of us see.

Less visible — and certainly less numerous — are the old people who literally can’t go on living without each other.

The end of the defense of marriage legislation in the U.S. (which officially died yesterday when the IRS finally said same-sex couples are the same as any other couple for tax purposes) was sparked by two old ladies, one of whom was in a wheelchair and dying.

And in the last week, we’ve been lucky enough to hear two other stories of couples who died hours apart — and family members who say that’s just the way it should be because that’s what love and marriage is.

The Star Tribune today carries the obituary of Annette and Leonard Pupkes of Omaha, who moved to Arden Hills a few months ago to be closer to family. They were married for 63 years. He died first earlier this month; she followed several hours later, the paper says.

A week before her death, Leonard knew that his wife would die soon and told John that he did not expect to live much longer, either. “As Mom faded, Dad saw his own role fading, too,” said Pupkes. The two lived in separate wings of Johanna Shores. On the day her husband died, Annette’s last request was to hold the picture of their only great-grandchild, Charlie.

He enjoyed canning (“He canned anything that didn’t move,” his son told the Omaha World-Herald), fishing, and jigsaw puzzles. She enjoyed reading, music, art, and flowers.

Their story — everlasting love and devotion — is similar to that of Harold and Ruth Knapke, who died hours apart in their shared room in a nursing home in Ohio days after the Pupkeses passed on, days before their 66th anniversary. He was 91, she was 89.


“We believe he wanted to accompany her out of this life and into the next one, and he did,” daughter Margaret Knapke told the Dayton Daily News.

They’d met as children and began their courtship as pen pals, while Harold served in World War II.

They lived in a shared room in a nursing home. When she was ailing, daughter Pat Simon said, he blessed her each night with holy water.

“It is really just a love story,” said Carol Romie, another daughter. “They were so committed and loyal and dedicated, they weren’t going to go anywhere without the other one.”

Which is the very picture of what marriage should be.