Laura Dean Bennett
As their 70th wedding anniversary approaches, Sonny and Jane Shaw can be found living quietly and contentedly in their home in Edray. A home that Sonny built for the family.
A look at their life story is like the view from the front windows of their home –spectacular, yet quiet and steady.
A big red barn dominates the hillside across the road on Sonny’s family’s farm, where Sonny and Jane lived at one time.
With the exception of Sonny’s time in the Army and a few years working away from home, the couple has lived and worked here among their family, friends and neighbors their entire lives.
Their love story is as sweet as maple syrup, and as steadfast as an old locust fence post – and notable, because of the length of their marriage.
They were married on April 6, 1952, and they will celebrate 70 years together this spring.
It’s a big anniversary, but they haven’t planned an anniversary celebration. Jane doesn’t want to do anything “too big.”
“Oh, maybe the kids will do something, but really, we don’t need to do anything special,” she said.
It’s not every day we hear about a couple reaching such a milestone.
In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, fewer than six percent of marriages last 50 years, and only 0.1% of marriages make it to 70 years, which means Sonny and Jane Shaw are a rare couple indeed.
“We met at Marlinton High School when we were both juniors,” Sonny said.
Jane’s mom, Grace Nelson, was postmaster at Slaty Fork.
Jane’s dad, Jeff Nelson, was an engineer with the Western Maryland Railroad, and he was away a lot but growing up, the children – Harper, Jack, Bob, Sondra and Jane – all pitched in to help in his absence.
Sonny’s parents, Norman and Eula Shaw, had a little house on their Slaty Fork farm and his dad had a portable sawmill that he set up everywhere.
“Dad had sawmills all over on Back Mountain and Dry Branch,” Sonny said.
“I had a brother, Tom, and two sisters, Mary Jane and Virginia.
“My parents always liked Jane, so when I told them I was going to marry her, there were no objections.”
The young couple dated through their junior and senior years in high school.
Sonny was a little too shy to ask Jane out at first. He asked his good friend, Herbie Mace, to ask Jane for a date.
“I don’t remember what Herbie said about Sonny, or anything about that conversation, but I guess I said ‘yes,’ because that’s when we started seeing each other,” Jane said.
“I remember Herb and I picked you up for a car ride,” Sonny said proudly.
Their first real date was to the Alpine Theater for a movie.
“I don’t remember what was showing,” Jane said. “We went to the movies a lot.”
Her family always called her Jane, but at school, there were too many Janes, so they started calling her Barbara Nelson.
She was the very first Chapter Sweetheart of the FFA Marlinton Chapter.
She still has her Chapter Sweetheart jacket – and it still fits.
“I went to the FFA banquet and was the only girl there,” Jane recalled.
Sonny and Jane went to the movies – every week –if they could.
“We used to go downtown,” Sonny said. “That’s what the young people used to do.
“There’d be so many people downtown that there were no parking spaces. You had to get there early. We’d park on Main Street and watch people. If we didn’t get there in time for the first showing of the movie, we’d have to wait to see the second show.
“Janie was such a beautiful woman,” Sonny said.
“Sonny was always so good to me,” Jane said, smiling at him. “He treated me very nice.
“My mom and dad really liked him, in fact, he was the only boy they liked and approved of.”
After graduation, Jane took a job in Washington, D.C. with the Coast Guard.
Sonny had planned to go to WVU for pre-med. But suddenly his plans changed.
“I was already registered up there and everything, but all of a sudden I decided not to go the WVU. I wanted to stay on the family farm and I wanted to marry Jane,” Sonny explained.
“He called me up and said, ‘If you love me, you’ll come home and marry me,’” Jane remembered.
“And I said yes.”
They were married in the Slaty Fork Methodist Church.
“It was a small wedding – just family and a few friends – followed by a reception at my home afterward,” Jane said.
“My mother had a friend make this lovely tiered wedding cake,” Jane recalled.
Jane wore a pink suit she’d bought in Washington for the wedding.
“Some people might have thought something about the fact that I wasn’t wearing a white wedding dress,” Jane said. “But the truth is, I’d never been to a wedding, and I didn’t even think of getting a white wedding gown.”
“Sonny was so handsome,” Jane said as she was sitting on the couch, reaching for Sonny’s hand. “He was just irresistible.
“And he still is,” Jane said.
“I still feel the same way about him to this day.”
They took a car trip, with no particular destination in mind, except that they knew they wanted to see the cherry blossoms on the mall in Washington.
“The cherry blossoms were magnificent, it was the highlight of our honeymoon,” Jane remembered.
They enjoyed a week away from home, meandering around the countryside.
After their honeymoon, the Shaws came home and settled into life on the family farm in Edray.
“We had dairy cattle, sheep and beef cattle,” Sonny said. “My dad paid me $150 a week and, on that little money, we bought furniture and an automobile.”
Sonny was drafted into the Army 1954-1956 during the Korean Conflict.
He spent time at Fort Knox and then Fort Bliss, Texas, and, of course, Jane went with him.
They came back home and sold the dairy cows, leased the farm and built the Marlinton Motor Inn. That managed it for four years before selling it.
Then they went to Birmingham, Alabama, when Sonny accepted the invitation to work with Thomas Lowe, Jr., the engineer who designed the Highland Scenic Highway.
After three years in Alabama, they moved to Buckhannon for two years. And finally moved back to Marlinton, and Sonny built the house where they live now.
“We couldn’t wait to move back to Marlinton,” Sonny laughed.
The community has benefited from it, as well.
Together with his sons, Jeff and Kevin, Sonny has built nearly 40 log homes, several houses around Snowshoe, a major portion of Whistlepunk and Mountain Quest, the beautiful retreat in Frost.
He’s retired now.
“Well, not really retired,” Sonny protests, but Jane insists, “Yes, he is.”
“We built four rental houses and two apartment buildings on Ninth Street and Sixth Avenue,” Sonny related.
“We had just rented the last apartment the day before the ‘85 flood, and it ruined the bottom floors of our buildings. So we remodeled,” he added with a sigh.
Life hasn’t been all work, the couple has taken some nice trips over the years.
Once they flew to Las Vegas, taking along a large box of pots and pans to a couple who had left them behind in their rental apartment.
Jane and Sonny and Jane’s brother, Harper Nelson, and his late wife, Brenda, pulled up in front of Caesar’s Palace in a cab and when they got out, the box broke and pans went all over the sidewalk in front of Caesar’s Palace.
“It was embarrassing then, but it’s funny now,” Jane said. “Thank goodness no one knew we were from West Virginia.”
Sonny and Jane also went to Hawaii as part of a WVU excursion trip.
“There was that famous moonlight dinner cruise, remember Janie?” Sonny laughed.
“It was less like a yacht and more like a raft with TV dinners. It was terrible. But there was beautiful fruit every morning for breakfast.
They took a trip to the Grand Canyon and loved it, and they went to Switzerland in 1982.
Sonny had built a house for a man from Switzerland.
“He went back to Switzerland every summer and invited us to come along,” Jane remembered. “We went for three weeks. It was wonderful. We toured around into Germany a little bit, too.
“These days, Sonny and Jane seem to have come full circle.
“We like to read and watch movies,” Jane said. “It’s so nice we can watch movies at home these days.
Sonny’s been going out west to hunt elk for 47 years.
Jane usually stays home, but does occasionally accompany him on his trips to Wyoming and other spots in the wild west.
“I went to Jackson Hole with Sonny once,” she said. “I enjoyed sightseeing and shopping while Sonny hunted.”
Sonny has four elk trophy heads that Jane won’t let him hang up.
“I just don’t think we have room for them in the house,” she explained with a smile.
According to Jane Shaw, there’s no big trick to staying married for 70 years.
“We just like to be together at home all the time,” she said.
“With God’s help is the only way to choose the right mate and keep a marriage healthy.
“We are so fortunate.
“God has really blessed us.”