It is a guarantee that anybody who spends time with Roger and Donna Sweeney will laugh — a lot.
Their youngest child, Dawn Cummer, of Dubuque, said that has always been a hallmark of her parents’ personalities.
“Through good times and bad times, they always had a sense of humor,” she said.
Roger, now 80, and the former Donna Schmitt, now 79, have been married for 59 years. They were both born and raised in Holy Cross, and still live there in the home where they raised their family — daughters Chris Reiss and Dawn, and sons Steve and Brian. Now Roger and Donna have 11 grandchildren, and they also have one great-granddaughter.
“She’s not spoiled at all,” joked Donna, adding that having their great-granddaughter living in the area is an added bonus.
Roger and Donna met at what was then Holy Cross Leo High School. Roger was a junior, while Donna was a freshman.
“We knew of each other’s families,” Donna said. “It’s a small town. Our families belonged to the same church. But we never really met until high school.”
The occasion was a school dance. Donna noticed Roger right away.
“He was very tall,” she said. “And he was good looking. What else do you need?”
Roger said he immediately connected with his future wife.
“We just clicked,” he said. “We had a lot of the same interests.”
Donna’s parents said she couldn’t date until she was 15, which happened not long after she met Roger. But then there was another rule — she could only go out on a date once per month.
“I always thought that was kind of dumb,” Donna said. “We saw each other every day in school.”
The couple’s first date was the Rosalind Russell film “Auntie Mame” at the Grand Opera House in Dubuque in 1958.
“Did I have my ‘48 Dodge then?,” Roger asked his wife.
“Yeah, he thought he could dazzle me with his ‘48 Dodge,” Donna laughed.
The way Roger proposed also hints at the couple’s quirky sense of humor.
“We were driving down the road, and I just handed it to her,” Roger said. “I said, ‘Here ya go.’”
“He’s such a romantic,” Donna said with a laugh.
The couple got married at Holy Cross Catholic Church on Oct. 26, 1963. They lived for a short time in Farley before returning to Holy Cross and building their home.
Roger drove a bread truck for Trausch Bakery for 12 years, then moved to Swiss Valley Farms, where he retired after 22 years.
Donna worked as a hair stylist for a while, then began working for the town of Holy Cross as the town clerk, a job she retired from after 28 years.
“I really enjoyed that job,” she said. “Grant writing, keeping track of everything, greeting the public, which wasn’t always easy. I liked the challenge of getting grants and seeing things grow.”
Daughter Chris, of Ryan, said she knows her parents worked hard while raising their family.
“Mom had four of us in five years,” she said. “It was a lot. But we had a lot of fun, too.”
Dawn said she and her siblings all attended Catholic schools through high school, which meant many extra working hours for her dad in order to pay tuition.
“He took all the hours he could get,” she said. “And he worked nights. I really appreciated that when I got older.”
Roger and Donna have done a lot of traveling during their retirement, including trips to Austria, Germany and Ireland. They have particularly enjoyed traveling in the U.S., indulging their love for country music with many trips to Branson, Mo. and Nashville, Tenn. They have visited every state in the U.S. except Hawaii, although they doubt they’ll visit there.
“We’re not beach people,” Donna said.
The couple also belonged to a classic car club in Guttenberg and enjoyed cruising with the club in their ‘67 MG convertible. They no longer have that car, replacing it with a yellow 2001 Ford Mustang they bought for their 50th wedding anniversary.
“My mom has all these fancy little hats with rhinestones that she wears on those rides,” Dawn said. “That just tells you how much fun they have together.”
While they are no longer active members of the club, Roger and Donna said they still have friends from those days that they’ll meet for a meal and an evening drive in their vintage cars.
“We’ll meet for dinner, then drive to the country club in Guttenberg for double bubble,” Donna said. “You know, two beers for the price of one.”
“And of course, at our age, if we have two beers, we’re done,” Roger added. “We’re home before dark.”
Chris and Dawn said their parents were very involved in the church and in the community at large, serving as coaches for sports teams and as board members for a number of organizations.
“Family was very important,” Chris said. “We always ate supper together. We went to church every Sunday. They taught us to work hard and to get involved in the community. But they always laughed together and had fun. They loved being together and being with us, and we loved being with them. And we still do.”
That togetherness has continued with the next generation.
“They’re the number one fans of all of the grandkids,” Dawn said. “They go to all of their school events and games if it’s within driving distance.”
Donna said the key to her and Roger’s long partnership started with friendship.
“We’re friends,” she said. “We enjoy each other’s company. After 59 years, you’re going to have some rough spots. We had lay-offs and strikes and tough times. That wasn’t easy. But we just kept plugging along.”
Disagreements between the couple are rare.
“You just talk things through,” Roger said. “We’ve never gotten so pissed at each other that we didn’t talk for days.”
Donna nodded, then smiled.
“Never,” she said. “Maybe just half a day.”