Forever Valentines

Dementia has impacted couple’s 53-year-long marriage

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ Mary and John Page of Marshalltown have been married for nearly 53 years. Mary, a resident of Glenwood Place, has suffered from dementia for the past eight years. John, who visits her everyday, said he takes their life together one day at a time.

Like every couple, Mary and John Page have endured the joys, ups, downs and tragedies of sharing a life together. Weathering the storm of life, raising two children, going on vacations, and to see their beloved Iowa State Cyclones play, their nearly 53 years as a wedded couple have been filled with the typical circumstances of life. But Mary’s diagnosis with dementia eight years ago has dramatically changed, but not weakened, their love for each other.

Mary, who has lived at Glenwood Place the past two years, requires the type of around the clock care not easily provided in the home.

“I kept her at home until I couldn’t anymore,” John said. “She’s on the move and active, so I couldn’t trust her alone, but she’s been a model resident, and took to the place like a duck to water. She handled [moving in] better than I did.”

John, who works part-time driving a bus for the West Marshall School District, visits Mary on a daily basis, as he still resides in their family home in Marshalltown.

“I usually eat lunch with her everyday at noon, and go to special music programs with her at night,” he said.

The pair either takes a walk around the nearby pond or through the halls of the facility, also on a daily basis. They attend church services together at First Baptist Church once a month, and also enjoy a special dinner.

“I was devastated when Mary was diagnosed with some form of dementia in her late 60s. Her mother had it too,” he said. “It was hard for me to accept at first, but it is what it is. To see her go from very active in everything, to see her not know what’s going on, is very tough.”

Mary is known for her cheerful, talkative personality. However, the words she forms make sense only to herself.

“I think she knows who I am and my voice, but we can’t converse,” John said. “One of the sad things is we have no family here … and she doesn’t recognize our children, Randy and Julie, anymore.”

Even with the communication barrier, John tells her all about his day.

“I tell her anyway. I miss that [not being able to have a conversation].”

John and Mary’s love story began in high school in their native, Benton, Ill., when during their senior year, they became an item. They married on June 26, 1965. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois University, while she attended business/secretarial school. Working in the agricultural feed business, John’s profession required the family to frequently move around the country, landing them in Marshalltown in 1973.

Mary spent 26 years serving as a secretary for the Marshalltown School District’s Bus Barn. After retiring in 2006, John turned to driving a bus for the Marshalltown School District, and then more recently, for the West Marshall School District.

“I about went nuts after I retired, and now, driving a bus gives me something to do and an incentive to get up in the morning. It’s been good therapy for me,” John said.

What is John’s favorite aspect of having been married for so long?

“The companionship,” he said. “We had a good relationship and liked to do things together. It was just a good marriage. We loved to watch our kids — we never missed a game. For 30 years we went to Iowa State football and basketball games. We took the kids camping and on sightseeing trips.”

He said his church, neighbors, friends, and the staff at Glenwood Place have been a solid support system.

“John is so inspiring. Their story is like ‘The Notebook,'” said Glenwood Place Community Relations Coordinator Brooke Tice. “They’re a great couple, and it’s a terrible disease.”

How has John coped with the changes to his marriage?

“I think with the disease you have to be ready for anything,” he said. “You learn to adjust. I know today is the best day of her life, because it goes downhill from there, so we just live day to day.”

While it’s been a tiring journey, John doesn’t believe in wallowing in sadness.

“We’ve been together for 53 years, and life has been good. A few bumps in the road, but that’s to be expected. If you get to feeling sorry for yourself, visit a hospital or nursing home and get back to reality to see someone has it a littler tougher than you do.”


Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or