Reflecting on our 30th and probably last wedding anniversary: Life has been really good, and still is, even with death so near

By CHUCK OFFENBURGER

COOPER, Iowa, April 21, 2021 – Happy 30th wedding anniversary, dear Carla!

We really celebrated it this year, didn’t we?  Fresh flowers, lots of cards, peach ice cream and a surprise serenade last evening in our farmhouse living room from 10 members of the Chancel Choir at our Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ from Des Moines.

We’ve never been big on celebrating our wedding anniversaries, mostly because our life together has been one big celebration after another, starting 30 years ago and continuing even now.

Let’s recall some of those celebrations, and how we often took crowds of Iowans along with us.

Honeymoon photo Carla & Chuck 1991.jpg

A much younger Carla and Chuck Offenburger, on our honeymoon in April, 1991 — which was going to an “Adult Prom” the night after the regular prom at Iowa Falls High School.

We went to France with a tour group of World War II veterans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. We organized and led 308 people riding bicycles across America in celebration of Iowa’s 150 years of statehood.  We’ve gone on other bike rides with other groups across Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin, Montana and many times across Iowa on RAGBRAI. We led bus tours all over Iowa, and beyond. We followed Iowa’s opera great Simon Estes in concerts in South Africa, Washington, D.C., and all across Iowa.  We helped organize community celebrations, adult proms, concerts, informational forums, quilt shows and more.  We’ve been actively involved in politics, actually in both parties.  I tagged along as you organized work parties on Habitat for Humanity houses.  We’ve had great thrills rallying with our Vanderbilt University friends as we all followed our Commodores baseball team to two national championships in baseball’s College World Series. We’ve been to countless family graduations, marriages, birthdays and funerals.

And, oh yes, there were those nervous times apart, back in 1990 and ’91. We were actually just going together, not yet married, when the Des Moines Register sent me away on two long trips to cover the Persian Gulf War in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq.  You took over my parenting duties, ran the Offenburger household and became like a den mother for the sophomore boys from Johnston High School.  Back home at Christmastime, I proposed, kneeling with a carrot – representing the “full carat” you’d joked would be required if you were to marry again. I went back to Saudi for six weeks more war coverage, came home as spring was breaking, and the late Rev. Faith Ferre married us at Plymouth Church’s Lane Chapel on April 20, 1991.

And that’s just a quick synopsis of a much longer list of fun and inspiration.

Chuck & Carla on RAGBRAI 2011.jpg

Taking a brake on RAGBRAI in 2011 — on the front porch of the home of Kyle Munson and Anne Sobiech-Munson in Slater.

It’s really been something, you know?

“No wonder we’re always tired,” you’ve often observed.

But this 30th wedding anniversary is indeed special.  We know it probably is our last together.

Since 2009 – more than a third of our marriage – we’ve been dealing with cancer. 

I had a couple kinds of lymphoma before a rugged stem cells transplant saved me.  You’ve battled the slow, steady, incurable, awful adenoid cystic carcinoma.  You had a radical neck surgery in 2010 to remove a tumor and a month of radiation, then five good years with only check-ups. But from 2015, there’ve been three major surgeries, four or five long-needle ablations on tumors, and a lot more radiation. There’s been chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

And by last August, we had to agree with our doctors and nurses that further aggressive treatment would result only in misery and death.  The alternative you chose, with my full support, was in-home hospice care, emphasizing comfort while enabling as much activity as you feel like having.

We are both surprised we have lived as long as we have, with the serious health challenges we’ve had. We are both convinced that our love and marriage have been as important to our survival as the outstanding medical care we’ve received.  

Dressed up for Easter 2020 Carla & Chuck.jpg

Dressed up for Easter Sunday this spring — even though we were staying home for “virtual church,” dinner and naps.

I’ve loved these past eight months, during which we’ve spent more time together than ever before.  We’ve had wonderful visits from family and friends.   Being strict about precautions, and getting vaccinations at our first opportunities, we’ve avoided COVID.

We’ve had great conversations about serious topics – including death.

Then we had one, right in front of us. 

Your mother Sue Burt, a grand character who had lived with us the past three years and had become a light in our lives during that time, had a heart attack and died on Feb. 23. She was 85.

We learned so much – about life and about death – in Suesy’s time with us.  We both have had this weird feeling that it was supposed to be that way, your mother teaching us by example, about approaching and reaching life’s end.  And so we talk about that.

“I never thought I’d out-live you,” I told you the other night.

“I never thought you would, either,” you answered.

“Well, I still haven’t, and might not,” I reminded you – and reminded myself, too.  “I’m 73 years old and have out-lived every male in my family. I’m not a good bet for longevity.”

“Yeah, and I’m just 62 and I’m the one in hospice care,” you said. “Now, I’m not going to get stuck on this for more than a minute here, but sometimes this really pisses me off.”

“It should,” I said.

But then we got right back to two other things that have sustained us – gratitude for all we’ve had together and acceptance for what’s to come.

Plymouth Chancel Choir members serenade us on anniversary 2 - CROPPED.jpg

Ten members of the Plymouth Church Chancel Choir, from Des Moines, serenading us in our farmhouse living room on our 30th wedding anniversary, April 20, 2021.  The serenade was a surprise gift to us from members of our family — a total surprise that left us in happy tears.

For 30 years, we’ve been a pretty good team when big things happen.

It’s been like that from the moment we met. Can I tell my favorite old story about that again here?

On a hot afternoon in the summer of 1990, my RAGBRAI pal Jim “Greenie” Green – who was soon to become RAGBRAI director – and I were riding our bicycles from Waukee toward Adel on the Raccoon River Valley Trail.  We were yacking away, solving our kids’ problems, and syncing our RAGBRAI plans.  Suddenly, two young women on their bikes, also heading west, passed us.  Greenie and I were continuing our conversation as the women went around us, but I glanced and noticed that one of the women had shoulders turning red in the beating sun.  “Hey, lady!” I said, apparently sounding much gruffer than I realized. “You better get a T-shirt on. You’re getting sunburned.”

Greenie exploded – at me.

“Jesus Larry Christ!” he roared, as only he could. “Can’t you be a little nicer to people than that? That sweet young thing is riding along, minding her own business, and here you are barking at her!”

Fifteen minutes later, Greenie and I were ordering ice cream at Barney’s Dairy Stripe, trailside in Adel.  We went outside and sat on a curb to enjoy the treats.  And there were the two young women we’d just seen on the trail – you and your sister Chris Burt – also sitting on the curb.

At Greenie’s urging, I apologized to you for barking at you about your sunburn.  You and I started talking, and it so happened that both of us had ordered peach malts.  It was a match made at Barney’s!  It was a great omen, maybe a sign from God, or perhaps from Jesus Larry Christ! This could be the relationship with a woman I’d always wanted.

Ever after, Greenie quit referring to you as “that sweet young thing” and instead would tell me “Carla Offenburger is the best decision you ever made.”  Amen.

You can email the columnist at chuck@Offenburger.com or comment using the handy form below here.

77 thoughts on “Reflecting on our 30th and probably last wedding anniversary: Life has been really good, and still is, even with death so near

  1. Thanks for sharing Carla and your beautiful story, Chuck. I just loved reading it, including how you and Carla met over your peach malts! Biking, babes and beautiful memories — love it! Happy 30th!

  2. MANY HAPPY MEMORIES TO OVERSHADOW THE STRUGGLES …PLUS A STRONG FAITH AND DEDICATION TO EACH OTHER. A TRIBUTE TO 30 YEARS TOGETHER
    Many happy memories to overshadow the struggles. Plus a strong faith and dedication to each other. A tribute to 30 years together.

    Dave and Anne Stevens, Northwood, IA

  3. Your story is filled with Faith, family, friendship, love — and topped off with a peach malt. Happy anniversary, my friends. Blessings to both of you.

    Tim Fleming, Mason City IA

  4. Not enough words to describe what we’ve watched of both of your journeys. Grace, courage, strength, humor and love. You are our heroes. We are so glad you’ve been able to have this last year to be together. May it last even longer for you. Happy 30th from The Mathews.

    Bill & Kathy Mathews, Arizona

  5. A wonderful read, Chuck. If I may say, you two remind me of my wife and I quite a lot. We’ve been together 19 years and are just plain crazy about each other. God’s continued blessings to you both.

    Al Joens, Sioux City

  6. Thank you, Chuck! I love it when people talk about things that matter to all of us but are usually left unsaid. You and Carla are classics. It has been seriously enriching to tag up with you and enjoy a kindred spirit after all these years! Blessings on you both!

    Rev. Wes Smith, Virginia

  7. Wonderful column and an even more wonderful life you and Carla have had together. Happy anniversary and thanks for sharing, Chuck.

    Greg Buntz, Grinnell IA

  8. A lovely story. I somehow came across this page in searching for a poem, and in the process found a genuine love story. I cannot fathom what you are going through, nor what you have been through the past 30 years, but you have had each other, and that’s more than others. Many warm greetings from a young couple in Norway, wishing the both of you the very best!

    Geir Andre Nagvik, Norway

  9. A wonderful tribute filled with cut-this-out-and-save-it lines, Chuck. We keep talking about getting the Iowa columnists together for a ride or a dinner at the farmhouse — you call it, I’m free. We’ll send Kyle (Munson) to convince John (Carlson).

    Courtney Crowder, Des Moines Register

  10. It was a wonderful treat to hear both of your voices yesterday and on our voice mail wishing us a happy 46th anniversary. My heart is heavy with the thoughts of losing you, Carla, in this world, however you will ALWAYS be in my heart for the rest of my days until we are reunited in the next world. You and Chuck have immeasurably enriched our lives with our wonderful and deeply abiding friendship along with our fabulous adventures, and the lives of Sarah and Douglas, too. Thank you for sharing your anniversary story. So precious, just like you two. We love you both ever so dearly, Our prayers are with you.

    Molly and Douglas T. Bates III, Centerville TN

  11. Thanks for such a lovely and moving love letter, Chuck. I can feel the depth of love several states away.

    Rev. Stan Dotson, Asheville NC and Matanzas, Cuba

  12. So happy you could celebrate this anniversary together. You both, mostly Carla, played such a vital role as our Buena Vista University “parent” to Casey. We know that might not have been easy. He enjoyed those years more than either of you will ever realize, and Becky and I appreciate you keeping him in line. Haha. We remember traveling to Rockford to see the Beavers play and enjoying the night talking with you. That time keeps coming to my memories at this time, and how much it was enjoyed. I’d have to say that you did a “pretty good” job of raising Casey during his post high school years as we are really proud of him. You are in our prayers as you go through this difficult time together. We just want to say “thank you.”

    Steve Pelzer, Anita IA

  13. Oh Chuck, this one hit home. My mom was a huge fan of yours, ever since watching you cover Iowa Girls State Basketball Basketball tournaments in Vets. You sat in front of us for years. She always asked me if I had read your recent columns — she loved your writing. Last month she chose hospice care, and last week she passed in her own home and her own bed, just like she wanted. May you and your sweet Carla also have the things you choose. Blessings.

  14. Chuck your storytelling ability is only surpassed by your passion and gusto for life. What a lovely tribute to 30 years. Happy anniversary to a couple that has made a helluva lot of tough choices and turned a lot of lemons into lemonade. Thanks for showing the rest of us turnips on how to live life to the fullest. Happy anniversary, Chuck and Carla!

  15. Carla and Chuck, thank you for showing us what love, friendship, devotion, support, loyalty, happiness, gratitude and resolve look like. You’ve set the bar very high but you have given us hope and strength for the journey. Thanks be to God for you CARLA❤️ Thanks be to God for you CHUCK.

    Jan Campbell, Des Moines

  16. Well done, my friend. We have been blessed with your insightful writing. I have personally enjoyed your presence in my life. Thank you.

    From Dick Stoffer, a Claydigger (as Sheffield IA High School alumni are known)

  17. We attended “Senior Prom” in Cooper a couple times and had so much fun. Thank you for the memories with friends! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this piece about your anniversary and love for each other. Thank you for sharing your story.

  18. Wow! This is a beautiful story from a beautiful person. You have never influenced so many people in a positive way! Still you continue to make an impact!

  19. Chuck, I love reading your articles about you and Carla and the story of your lives. You were our brave, adventurous leaders on the Iowa 150 bicycle adventure. I’ll never forget the memories we made on that ride and the fun we had! Thinking of you both.

    Emily (Shay) Harding, Waukee, IA

  20. Happy Anniversary! Thank you for sharing this touching look at a life and love well lived together. May your love and faith continue to sustain you both!

  21. Sending hugs and prayers to you both. We’ll get in touch the next time we bike thru Cooper and you stop in if you go thru Pomeroy.

  22. Such a beautiful tribute and story of your love! So happy you could spend this monumental anniversary together!

  23. Happy Anniversary Chuck and Carla! Have followed your story for a number of years. Thanks for being there Chuck for the “Turkey of the Year” at Turkey Valley. You are always so positive and bring joy to many. Sorry to hear your news – Will be praying for you and Carla.

  24. Blessings to you both on this special 30th Anniversary. I have been a fan on your Ragbrai trips. Thanks for sharing.

  25. Enjoyed reading how you met, Chuck! Happy you have been able to spend 30 awesome years together—many never get that chance! Have always enjoyed reading your columns!

  26. Wonderful column, a true love story. Happy Anniversary to you both. Think of you both often and you remain in our prayers every day, So many happy memories. Blessings!

    Sam and Lois Kauffman, Audubon IA

  27. My wife and I celebrated our 36th anniversary on April 20th. I am also 11 years older than my wife. You and I were together in West Germany in 1973 at Landstuhl. That was one of best Annual Training events I had in my 30-year military career. I still have the articles you wrote for the paper and the bottle of wine Helmut Kohl gave to us. We all have to count our blessings. I’ve said a prayer for you both. I enjoyed reading your story, interesting how you two met. Take care.

  28. Kerry and I want to wish you the very best possible at this difficult time. We’ve always admired your leadership and positive approach to tough situations, whether it be in baseball or life. Cherish each day beyond your 30 years together. It’s never over until the final out. We know you will win with God’s Grace.

  29. Thanks for sharing this touching tribute, Chuck. Very special. God bless you both and your life together; on this Earth and beyond. ❤️

  30. Chuck, had some fun conversation with you at the little gas station in Pomeroy. You had been at Buena Vista University giving a speech or teaching a class. Hate to hear about medical problems. Just lost my wife to cancer. My prayers are for you and your wife. May God send his peace during this time.

  31. Beautiful story, full of lessons for us to hear and absorb. Thank you for sharing your personal experience and wisdom so generously.

    David Calvert, New York City (and Grinnell, IA)

  32. What a beautiful love storya1 Happy anniversary. Will keep you in our prayers. We still remember your stay with us in Orange City about 25 years ago. Blessings to you both.

    Randy and Barb Simmelink

  33. Thank you, Chuck, for this beautiful tribute for your anniversary. A wonderful love story.

    Chuck and Kathy Safris, Urbandale IA

  34. Sending you both love and support. I have been a longtime fan of both of you. From your writing to your community efforts, you have been role models for me throughout my life. You continue to make such an impact through your words and actions. ~Heather Lilienthal

  35. I can’t improve on Molly’s words and CERTAINLY can’t improve on yours and Chuck’s. When Hubert Humphrey died, Walter Mondale said of his mentor and friend, “He taught us how to live and he taught us how to die.” So I say for you, sweet Carla, so I say for you.

    Douglas T. Bates III, Centerville TN

  36. Happy anniversary Chuck and Carla. The short time I was blessed to spend with you at BVU was time well spent. Thanks so much for all the columns I’ve ready and all both of you have done for the state of Iowa. All these memories are proof of lives well lived.

  37. Hi Chuck! I’m Barney’s daughter! My dad has dementia now, but before he got really bad, we would often reminisce, and your love story was one of the favorites. My mom and I still talk about your visits to the Dairy Stripe, including after the wedding when we all wore tuxedo t-shirts. I’m so sorry to hear about the health issues you and Carla have faced, but I love knowing that my family was a small part of your happy 30 years. Love and hugs to you both!

  38. Sending all kinds of love, courage and caring thoughts to both of you. Yes, so grateful for lives that are shared.

  39. A moving anniversary story about two giving and brave people who met on bikes over malts. What a perfect beginning! Happy Anniversary!

  40. This is an incredible love story. I applaud and congratulate you both on 30 such loving year together.. Some never understand or have ever experienced your compassion and devotion for each other, and the fun and love you have shared. Wow !. Happy Anniversary and keep on keepin’ on.

  41. Wow, what a truly inspiring story. I think this will teach us how to appreciate all things in life. It’s so hard to put into words the love that is and was displayed for a lifetime. Your story is the true exemplary meaning of what we are all placed on earth for, and about being at our spouses’ side through it all. May you be blessed abundantly by God’s grace. Thanks so much for sharing. You both shall be in my thoughts and prayers.

  42. Chuck and Carla, happy anniversary? Suzie and I have fond memories of the start of your relationship and of course “the best decisions we ever made.” A lasting love.

  43. Thank you for your services. Awesome! Have read your stuff since Register and Tribune days, way back. Thank God for every morning and evening, then go for another.

    Dave Hubbard, Parkersburg, IA

  44. I loved reading your love story! Thanks so much for sharing! Happy 30th anniversar tyo both of you!

    Sue Wind, Jamaica IA

  45. Chuck, that was a wonderful article and I sure enjoyed reading it. I look at you, and you look so much like my old neighbor — your sister Bev Watson — living on 52nd Street for so many years gin Des Moines. You’ve had a wonderful life and I just keep thinking how your sister was so proud of you.

  46. Love to read your stories about Iowa Boy and his Girl, plus Mr. Greenie. Reminds me of golden days at The Register. Happy Anniversary to you!

  47. Your love story is an inspiration for us to live every day with purpose. Chuck, I recall once during the time our desks were in the same newsroom neighborhood, that you showed me a line on your palm and said a palm reader had told you not to expect living a full life. The palm reader was so wrong.

    Mike Wegner, Des Moines

  48. Congrats on 30 years, and, wow, what a trove of adventures you two have had. Thank you for sharing this and blessings to you both.

    Deborah Brewington, Nashville

  49. Beautiful history of a loving, lasting marriage. Courage, faith, and devotion led you ’til now. God’s blessings to you both in the rest of your journey to eternal peace. Hug Larry when you make it to heaven, your eternal reward. In Christ.

    Jackie Fie

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