“I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Doris Singleman said of the globe-trotting adventure she has shared with husband Bill during a marriage that has lasted more than 66 years.
Currently, the couple lives in a cabin on Lake Emma and belongs to First English Lutheran Church in Dorset. Along with a sense of humor and the opportunity to live and work in exotic places, religious faith has been an important constant in their life together.
Their romantic story began before they even met, when Doris was a high school junior from Wyndmere, N.D., who went to church in nearby Barney. Bill was a senior in Wahpeton, where one of his closest friends lived on a farm in the Barney area.
“We had a secretary there, a very nice-looking lady, married, and it happened to be her older sister,” said Bill. “I asked Don, who was my buddy, ‘Have they got any more at home like her?’ He knew them real well. They went to the same church. … He said, ‘Yeah, there’s one left.’”
That exchange may have come to mind later, when Bill attended a wedding dance in Barney.
“I thought, ‘Hmm. That’s not a bad-looking gal,’” said Bill.
“I love to dance,” said Doris. “But he was … “
“I didn’t care for it,” Bill said.
“But I made him dance,” said Doris. “The slow dances. I thought he was really cute.” She laughed. “Very cute. So, we started going together right after that.”
While he was dating Doris, Bill took adult membership classes and joined the Lutheran church.
To Korea and back
Meantime, the Korean War broke out. Fresh out of high school, Bill joined the U.S. Navy and went to aviation ordnance school. Assigned to a fighter squadron on the West Coast, he went home for a 10-day leave after his training ended.
“They signed the cease-fire while I was home,” he said. “But that didn’t help the three buddies I lost from my classes.”
He reported to his duty station nevertheless, and served two years – much of it on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Oriskany, patrolling the 38th parallel off the coast of Korea between supply stops in Japan.
Because the war was over, his request was granted for an early discharge so he could start school in the fall of 1954. He enrolled in a two-year program at what is now the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton.
Bill and Doris were married soon afterward, on Dec. 27, 1954.
“I took a two-year certificate in drafting and estimating,” he said. “At that time, that was primarily a field that prepared you to manage lumber yards and things” – none of which he actually did.
Instead, he was hired straight out of school by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Dividing his career between the Army corps, the Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Bill started on the drafting table at Garrison Dam in Riverdale, N.D. and moved from one project to another with his growing family. Doris worked for the corps as well, as a secretary, except for 20 years she took off to raise their daughters, Lynne and Janna.
The couple’s travelogue is enough for a story of its own. After Riverdale, they put in two separate stints in Walla Walla, Wash., where both girls were born. In between, Bill worked on missile sites in Minot and Grand Forks, N.D. He worked for the Navy in Seattle, then the family spent seven years on a naval air station on Adak, a remote island in Alaska’s Aleutian chain.
“That was a strange place,” said Doris. “He loved it.”
She recalled a joke he played on her as the young family boarded their plane to Adak after a long wait on the tarmac due to foggy weather. When they got on the plane, Doris pointed out that the seats didn’t match, “and he says, ‘Well, they have all these accidents …’”
“They’re salvageable,” Bill chimed in. They shared a hearty laugh.
“Sense of humor has gotten us this far,” said Doris. “They say if you laugh a lot, it gives you a longer life. I say, we’re 80-some; it worked.”
She still gets a kick out of the memory of their wedding day, when the pastor’s sermon went on and on while the couple stood facing each other.
“I don’t know what he said, but (Bill) winked at me, and I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness!’” She laughed. “And I said, when I got twisted in my tongue … how did I put it? ‘From dess do uth part.’ That was probably where you winked at me.”
Following their time on Adak, the family moved to South Dakota, where Bill served in the maintenance office for buildings and grounds on an Indian Reservation. Their daughters bused to school in Chamberlain, S.D. on the advice of local teachers, who warned them that the Native American children wouldn’t accept them.
Doris voiced the disappointment they felt at the time, since the family came prepared for a cross-cultural adventure. Later, they moved off the reservation to the town of Highmore, S.D. while Bill commuted to the reservation.
The girls were still in school when the family moved to Fort Smith, Mont., where Bill worked on the Yellowtail Dam. Once past sixth grade, they had to ride a bus to school in Hardin, Mont. Then they moved to the Tiber Dam project, where the girls graduated from high school in Chester, Mont.
An exercise in trust
Bill’s next job, with the Bureau of Reclamation, took them to Great Falls, Mont. Then they worked four years helping the Army Corps of Engineers build a city for 50,000 people and an airfield with a 14,000-foot runway in Saudi Arabia.
“We were very trusting. We had to send a blank check,” said Doris.
“A blank check every week,” Bill added.
“And they went to the commissary in Riyadh, bought our groceries and brought them back to us, and never had a problem,” said Doris.
“Big coolers and everything,” said Bill.
They stayed in Saudi Arabia for four years and were among the last eight workers on the project to leave.
His last assignment, before retiring in 1987, was a seven-year stint on the Pacific island of Kwajalein, in the Marshall Islands, where the Army Corps of Engineers was building a missile test range.
“It was really pretty there,” Doris said.
Kwaj, as they call it, was an eight-hour flight, each way, on a slow plane to Honolulu, where their daughters came out to meet them. In fact, Janna was married in Honolulu.
Among the things the couple liked to do together, wherever they lived, were dining out, taking long walks and looking at the scenery. They found seashells on the shores of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean and were fascinated by how similar they look, all over the world.
Importance of faith
Everywhere they moved, even in areas that didn’t have a church, the couple stayed in touch with their church back home. “We sent our tithes to Barney for a long time,” said Doris.
When they had a Protestant military chapel to attend, Doris taught Sunday school and for a while, they even had a chaplain from their own church body.
“First order of business is to have a strong faith and act accordingly,” said Doris, adding that their faith was a big part of what made their relationship work.
“We were both on the same track,” Bill agreed.
“You work at it,” said Doris. “If you get in an argument, like everybody does, we always had our faith to go back to. … We’ve never had any really big arguments that we had to work out. We didn’t need anybody except ourselves.”
“We were lucky, too, that we had pretty good jobs,” said Bill, “so we were not wanting for anything. If we bought a big item, why, we’d save for it and go without until we could afford it.”
When it was time to retire, Doris told Bill that she wanted to live somewhere that had trees – unlike the stunted shrubs they called a forest on Adak, for example.
“And then God brought us here, which we love,” she said.
Looking back on love
Through all their adventures, Doris said, “I couldn’t have done it without him. I was never really afraid of anything, because he was there to take care of me. Now, I’m kind of taking care of him. He’s had health problems.”
Bill said of his bride, “She’s been a real workhorse, I’ll tell you that. Took care of the kids, and always had everything running at home, and she went to work again through all that, still taking care of the house and all that stuff. If there was anything that broke down and needed fixing, I could handle that. Most of the other stuff, she took care of. It was just a perfect match, I would say.”
After 25 years of doing a lot of do-it-yourself projects around the house and traveling to Florida for a winter break, the couple has stayed at home the last couple of years – partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and partly because, after age 85, Bill started having serious health issues for the first time in his life.
When they spoke to the Enterprise, the Singlemans were awaiting word about whether Bill would need surgery. Doris said Bill has had a hard time accepting help for things he is used to doing himself, like putting the dock in the lake and finishing home improvements.
“Yeah, really,” he agreed. “Because I like my own thing.”
“Well, you should be thankful that you’ve got such good neighbors,” she replied.
“By the way, Singlemann is German,” said Bill. “I dropped one N when I was in the service, because they kept messing it up.”
Doris noted that although their name has always had one N since they were married, their daughters chose to spell the name with two.
“I said, when they dig me down, I’ll have it spelled correctly on the tombstone,” said Bill.
“And I said, I don’t know if I can, because I never had two Ns on mine,” said Doris.
Bill replied, “Well, you’re with me, so …”
The couple also kidded each other over a difference of opinion about cremation.
“I’ve been through a big fire, years ago, as a kid, and I can’t think of anything worse,” said Bill.
“You wouldn’t know it,” Doris answered. “And God will find you, no matter how you’re ... “
“Yeah, well, we’ve got that to look forward to, I guess,” he said.
Admitting she is surprised they’ve lived so long, Doris added, “I am thankful that we’ve had such a good life.”