A Love That Endured Life’s March Madness

From The Wall Street Journal:

In 1956 the Ohio State University basketball team moved out of the drafty old Ohio Fairgrounds Coliseum and into the newly constructed St. John Arena. As a 9-year-old, I was excited to get a ticket to one of the daytime games.

I have no memory of who Ohio State was playing that afternoon, but there is one thing I have never forgotten.

The captain of the Buckeyes, Gene Millard, would bring the ball down the court and for the whole game there was a pretty young woman sitting in the stands near my elementary-school buddies and me, shouting enthusiastically. “Geno!” “Geno!” “Geno!” She never stopped. He was the entire focus of her attention.

I thought at the time that it must be so great to be out on the court and have someone like you so much.

I didn’t know it that day, but she was his wife. Gene Millard and Sally Settle had met while in eighth grade in Dayton, Ohio, and married while college sophomores.

After Mr. Millard’s senior season it was five years before I had reason to think about him again—when he arrived at our town’s high school as the new history teacher and basketball coach.

We could tell immediately what a good guy he was—unfailingly friendly, thoroughly unfull of himself, available to talk with anyone, athlete or not. From the moment he and Sally came to our community—Bexley, Ohio—they were a solid part of it. They raised their children there, regularly attended neighborhood events, were devoted members of the Bexley United Methodist Church.

The one constant was that they were always Sally and Gene. They came as a package deal—you couldn’t think about one without thinking about the other. Years and then generations passed, and they were no longer the young hotshot on the Ohio State hardwood and the adoring young wife in the stands. They had become something more important: the soul of the community, its quintessence. That kind of thing can happen in a small American town. You could move away, but every time you thought of home, you thought of Sally and Gene.

Gene finally retired as the new century began, but the Millards remained in town. Speaking about Sally, Lee Caryer—one of the students who was there when she and Gene first arrived—said: “No matter how you met her, she remembered your name and cared about your life.”

In the wider world of basketball, March Madness is under way. When the college tournament ends the CBS television network will, as always, play the song “One Shining Moment” to celebrate the new national champions.

Yet there are championships in this life, and then there are championships. Gene and Sally Millard had decades of shining moments together—68 years of marriage. She died in January at 88. Gene, 89 and without Sally for the first time since eighth grade, is living with one of his sons.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

1 thought on “A Love That Endured Life’s March Madness”

  1. Yes, beautiful writing. As someone who cares not a bit about “March Madness” (other than a mild desire to see my local team lose and possibly stop soaking up so much tax money) – the piece is an excellent reminder of what is truly important in life.

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