MISSOULA – Fifty years of love, faith, and hard work has one Montana family celebrating how far they have come.
The Piippo brothers were born in Minnesota and spent their early years on a tiny farm in a house they say was the size of a chicken coop.
The three boys slept on a mattress with only a single blanket to keep all of them warm. Some nights all they would have to eat was flour and water.
The trio, all of whom spoke Finnish, didn’t learn to speak English until they were seven and eight years old.
“The teacher put the two of us in the back of the room and told the rest of the kids ‘don’t play with them because they can’t speak English’, so they’re not worthy of your time or or-or to play with them which kind of sounds a little harsh, but on the other hand we learn English really fast,” Ken recalled.
When their father remarried, they moved to Butte. However, the marriage didn’t last and the boys found themselves in an orphanage.
There were several occasions where the boys were asked individually if they would like to be adopted. Each time they refused — if they all couldn’t go then none of them would.
Even at a young age, it was important to them that they never let the term orphan define them.
“We were happy just to dig in and just make something out of ourselves and get an education. And be able to provide homes for our wives and our children,” said Ken.
Jack went on to become a businessman and in his spare time, a musician. Walter and his twin brother Ken became educators and school superintendents here in the Treasure State.
The men all agree, the only success sweeter than the ones they had professionally was the family they built along the way.
Ken was married in September 1968, Jack March 1969 and Walt married his sweetheart in September of the same year.
All three weddings happened within a year of each other and 50 years later, they’re reflecting — hoping their story inspires others.
Without a strong role model to teach them about healthy relationships, the boys had to learn quick — just as they had when they had learned English all those years ago.
“It’s been a whirlwind right why she is stuck around for 50 years is still beyond me,” said Jack.
One thing that always helped the brothers in their marriages was their bonds with each other.
“Ken was his tremendous loyalty to his brothers. Tremendously loyal. And I knew if he was that loyal to his brothers he would be that loyal to me I’ve had three really bad bouts of cancer and he has stood loyally beside me,” said Claudia, Ken’s wife.
Marilyn, Walter’s wife, says communication can be one of the hardest things to master for young couples, but it is one of the most important.
“So many young couples are letting that get in the way of your happiness when it’s just a moment that you got for us 50 years more or more to live in your there’s a lot more happy moments than those kinds of moments,” she said.
For Donna and Claudia, their marriages taught them lessons by a change in circumstance.
“Since Jack and his stroke I’ve done things that I never thought I’d ever do and I’m a caregiver that I never thought I’d be in, but I think because of that we’ve grown closer together. And then when you go to support each other no matter what,” said Donna.
“Marriage is not a 50-50 proposition, it is 100-100. There are times that you cannot give anything sometimes. Be tolerant, be patient, be loving, and kind,” said Claudia.
That advice has certainly stood the test of time for the Piippo family.