When Isabel Ruiz wakes up on Sunday, Feb. 14, she will have a home-made Valentine’s Day card and flowers as proof of the love her husband Leonard Ruiz has been professing to her for more than six decades.
While other couples may call it quits after a few years, the Ruiz’s love story is still going strong 62 years after saying “I do.” Home-made cards on Valentine’s Day, her birthday and Christmas, as well as fresh flowers every week or so, are just the sort of caring expressions that keep the lifelong bond strong between them.
Sixty-two years of marriage for them feels like merely a minute.
“Time goes fast when you’re having fun,” Leonard said.
“Love At First Sight”
Their love story began on another special day: Cinco de Mayo (May 5).
Isabel, who was born in the small mining town of Superior, Arizona, had recently moved to Los Angeles and was living with her older sister. Leonard — a native of Piru, a small historic town near Santa Clarita — had been recently discharged from the Army and was in his “wild” stage, drinking and having fun with friends.
On May 5, 1957, they met at a dance at the long-gone Valley Garden Arena, located along Vineland Avenue in North Hollywood.
The outgoing Leonard, then 21, said he was already kind of “tipsy” when he asked Isabel, 19, to dance. But they kept on dancing throughout the night.
“She was nice and quiet. It turned me on,” said Leonard, who readily admits that it was love at first sight.
“For me, it was,” he said.
Leonard asked Isabel for her phone number. She gave it to him and he started calling, then visiting.
“I had to ask permission to see her,” he remembers.
After he finished work at the GM plant in Van Nuys, and she at a sewing factory, Leonard would stop by Isabel’s house. They spent time talking on the porch, always under the watchful eye of her family. They were allowed to go out on the weekends.
Soon he asked her to be his girlfriend. In May of 1958, a year after their meeting, he proposed.
“When he first asked me I said, ‘are you crazy?’” remembered Isabel. “I never thought of getting married, not at that time.”
But he convinced her that they were meant to be together. A month later, on June 14, they went to Las Vegas and got married at the “The Hitchin’ Post,” wedding chapel.
Contrary to statistics, which list Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada as the top destinations for doomed marriages — think Elvis Presley and Priscilla Beaulieu, Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton, Demi Moore and Bruce Willis, and even the 55-hour blissful union between Britney Spears and childhood friend Jason Alexander — the Ruiz’s relationship has lasted.
The reason for this is simple, they say.
“I was in love,” Leonard said.
“I fell in love with him,” chimes in Isabel, who found him to be “very polite and he did everything that I wanted,” whether it was getting me a Coke, an ice cream or anything within his reach.
“We were pretty compatible,” Leonard added.
They settled into married life, which has brought them two daughters as well as three grandkids and three great-grandkids.
They said there were never any major problems between them. Leonard’s “wild” side had subsided during their time as boyfriend and girlfriend; after they married, he just wanted to be with his wife.
“After dinner, one washes the dishes and the other dries,” Isabel says of how they live their life these days.
“(But) even when he was working, he came home and made dinner,” she recalled.
Leonard didn’t care that friends sometimes called him a mandilon (whipped).
“I wanted to please you,” he says to Isabel.
Secrets to a Long Marriage
One of the secrets to their long marriage, they say, is wanting to be together and never apart.
“Love and trust. If you don’t trust the other person, you’re in deep trouble,” Leonard said.
Other secrets include being honest with each other, not belittling one another, and not being too demanding. But above all, to love each other.
Their love and trust has allowed them to enjoy each other’s company. They’ve traveled a lot after Leonard retired at the young age of 50, more so when they had a mobile home.
They were a constant presence at the Las Palmas Senior Center in San Fernando, where they’ve been members for nearly 40 years, before the coronavirus pandemic hit. They lament that the center has been closed for nearly a year, and they miss seeing their friends. But the health crisis itself has not changed things between them.
“We take care of each other. We’re there 100 percent for each other,” Isabel said.
Now 85 and 83-years-old, they remain very much in love.
“We kiss each night. We hold hands at night,” said Isabel, who plans to cherish her home-made Valentine’s Day card on Sunday — just like she has for over six decades.