Olga & Louis Schavie
Interview & Photography by Vicky Beal
Written by Allison Kelley
Louis & Olga's Love Story
HERE IS A LINK TO THEIR VIDEO INTERVIEW!
When Louis and Olga Schavie met in 1945 you could go to the movies twice a week and only spend a dime (they would go to the show on Sunday and get a free ticket to see another double feature during the week). Methods of mass communication were not readily available - the radio was how you got your news and letters were how you kept in touch.
And then there were the in-person conversations that developed in the neighborhood and on the block. Back then, everyone knew everyone, but occasionally an outsider would appear and that would lead to a chance encounter. Lucky for Louis and Olga, their chance encounter has led to an inspiring 70-year marriage.
“I came home on a furlough and decided to go to the corner to see some of my friends. As I was crossing the street I heard someone call out to me, ‘What’s the matter? Are you too stuck up to say hello?’ I stopped in my tracks and looked across the street and there was my lovely wife,” says Louis.
“Olga!” Olga chimes in. And with a supportive nudge from Louis, Olga finishes their “how we met” story. “That’s the story all right. He came back and ever since, here we are, 70 years later.”
And after all these years, Louis and Olga are still there for each other. When they talk they hold hands, a small gesture they know the importance of more than most people.
In 1972, Louis was dealt a devastating blow when he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Laterals Sclerosis or ALS. At the time, not much was known about the neurodegenerative disease and the prognosis was grim. Louis’ doctors told him he had 3-5 years left to live.
“I was starting to lose the feeling in my right hand. Being a barber that’s not a good situation. I would drop the comb every now and then and when I reached in my back pocket to pull out my wallet I couldn’t grasp it. It looked like I just didn’t want to pay the bill,” Louis says with a smile.
45 years later Olga and Louis can laugh about it because he survived. Louis credits his health to acupuncture, exercise, his wife and his positive attitude.
“I got in touch with a doctor who practiced acupuncture and after the first treatment I felt invigorated. My muscles were tingling. I felt this man could help me. I worked with him for two years. Throughout the whole process I found out how much will power meant. You have to have the mindset that you are going to beat whatever is trying to knock you down.”
Over time Louis learned that independence was integral to his recovery.
“If things get difficult and you let somebody else do the work for you, like tying your shoe, after a while you can’t tie your shoe anymore. So I quit letting people help me and tried to do it all by myself,” says Louis.
But as his lifelong partner and biggest fan, Olga had a hard time letting Louis go it alone. “I always wanted to try and help him but he would say ‘until I can do it, leave me alone. And then you can help me.’ Seeing him go through this made me admire him even more,” says Olga.
Louis and Olga’s resiliency and positive outlook is a testament to their upbringing. Growing up in Chicago in the 1920s and ‘30s, both Louis and Olga’s families did not have much. But what they lacked in material items, they made up for in rich familial traditions.
“I’m lucky I had parents that shared with me their experiences and taught me how to do things. My dad was the repairman of the house. He never called anyone in to fix anything and often I’d help him out on projects around the house,” says Louis.
From Olga’s father, Louis’ father-in-law, Louis learned how to hunt for edible dandelions and how to select grapes for winemaking. All of Louis’ memories of his father-in-law are food related. He talks with such clarity you can almost taste the sweet homemade white zinfandel and smell the briny cured meats hanging in the basement.
“Every month with my father-in-law we did something. In September we made wine. We would go down to Fulton Market and the grapes would come in from California. My father-in-law knew the exact name of the grapes he wanted – white zinfandel. I’d go with him and we’d taste the grapes and end up making a barrel and a half of wine.
After making the wine, on weekends we’d have a feast with all the food we were making in the winter. We looked forward to those months. When fall came around we’d look at the weather and say, ‘The mushrooms should be ready soon.’ We’d go drive maybe 3 or 4 hours and to where the mushrooms grew and it was an outing. It was something exciting. We’d gather them all up, filled the trunks up with them, and bring them home,” says Louis.
Finally Olga interjects, sensing just how happy the memories are making her husband. “He’s getting excited!” she says with a chuckle.
Olga’s family’s love of good food rubbed off on Louis. “I’ll say one thing about him, he’s a good eater and if I didn’t cook good I probably wouldn’t have had him. I know that he likes his food. And that is something I learned from my mother,” says Olga.
Aside from great cooking, Olga says the key to a long marriage is listening. “We listen and pay attention to what we’re saying to each other instead of just saying, ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ If you don’t think about each other, it’s not going to work.”
Louis echoes Olga’s sentiment as he talks about the strength of their bond. “Once we resolve our problems, we always hug and kiss and everything is rosy again and life goes on. We cope with whatever ailment comes up; we have each other and that’s the strongest thing you can have going for you in a marriage. You have to pull together because life is hard. There’s always something that comes up that’s critical and you have to face it and be brave enough to work hard and solve your problems,” says Louis.
When they think about the state of modern relationships, Louis and Olga are saddened by the distractions and disconnection facing couples.
“I think people nowadays don’t take the time to think about each other enough. There’s so much going on through their life that they just don’t seem to want that togetherness once they get home,” says Olga.
Though miraculous from afar, Louis and Olga say there’s no mystery behind the success of their seven-decade spanning marriage.
“You just need a good right hand behind you,” says Louis putting his arm around Olga. “My love for her has never changed in our 70 years together. I’ve never had a thought in my whole lifetime that I would be without her. Every morning that I wake up I thank God that she is there. She always has coffee ready for me.”