Lester Thompson followed a promise of steady work and $15 a week to Arizona's cotton fields in the 1930s.
His girlfriend, Lillian, stayed in Texas while he scratched out a living in the Southwest.
The Great Depression almost derailed the couple's relationship. For three years, they bridged the physical distance with letters.
Lester's were filled with promises -- of money, of a future, of stability. Lillian waited. And waited.
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"He wrote letters, and he kept telling me he'd pick me up," Lillian said.
It took several years for Lester to get on his feet, but he stayed true to his letters and returned to Texas in a new Packard -- he'd made it. The Thompsons were ready to hit the road and make a life together.
The Kennewick couple no longer have the Packard, but they still have each other. They celebrated their 77th anniversary Monday.
Lester, 99, and Lillian Thompson, 96, were married Sept. 29, 1937, in Clarksville, Texas. Lester was 22 and Lillian was 19. The couple has lived in the Tri-Cities for almost 40 years.
The two met in grade school -- Lillian was just 7 when she first laid eyes on Lester.
"I thought he was a real nice looking boy," Lillian said. "I liked him real well from the start."
After the Depression, Lester operated a sawmill in Texas during World War II. In 1950, the couple made their way to Idaho, where Lester grew sugar beets.
By 1968, Lester was the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company's largest sugar beet producer. They moved to the Tri-Cities in 1977.
Lester went on to help his sons establish farms in the Mid-Columbia. He owns the Canyon Village Water System in Badger Canyon.
"It's been a wonderful existence for us," Lillian said.
The couple raised four children -- two boys and two girls -- including Nick Thompson, 63, and Phil Thompson, 58, of Kennewick. A daughter, Sherry Armstrong, lives in New Mexico, while another daughter has died. They have 13 grandchildren.
The couple sat next to one another in their Hawthorne Court apartment Monday morning and considered what's kept them together for almost eight decades.
"You want to make sure you love the person you're going to marry, and you need to make sure you adjust," Lillian said. "There's got to be adjustments."
Lester recalled the Great Depression and how he survived those hard times.
"I prayed to get through the Depression," he said. "I said, 'If you get me through this then I would get through the rest.' "
Lester said he felt like angels were perched on his shoulders during the rough time, helping him survive the difficulties.
He glanced to his right and looked at Lillian seated next to him. Lester smiled. Almost 80 years later, one of those angels is still by his side.
-- Drew Foster: 509-582-1513; email@example.com