Helen and Russell Shields celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary March 2 at the American Polish Cultural Center in Troy.

Helen and Russell Shields celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary March 2 at the American Polish Cultural Center in Troy.

Photo by Donna Agusti


St. Clair Shores couple celebrates 75 years of marriage

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published March 8, 2019

 The Shields are pictured with five of their children: Patrick Shields, of Standish; Dale Shields, of St. Clair Shores; Joellen Burton, of Rochester Hills; Judy Irving, of Grosse Pointe Woods; and Linda Krause, of Dewitt.

The Shields are pictured with five of their children: Patrick Shields, of Standish; Dale Shields, of St. Clair Shores; Joellen Burton, of Rochester Hills; Judy Irving, of Grosse Pointe Woods; and Linda Krause, of Dewitt.

Photo by Donna Agusti

ST. CLAIR SHORES — They met at a ballroom in downtown Detroit.

He was from Kansas, she was from Pennsylvania, and both had ended up in the Motor City.

She remembers that the Graystone Ballroom had “top-notch bands,” and acts that included Glenn Miller, Bob Crosby and Harry James. On the night that Russell Shields asked Helen to dance, he had been attending the Ford Training School to be a boilermaker for the U.S. Navy.

He was shipped off to the West Coast, and then around the world, shortly after they met.

“I wrote letters to him for three years,” said Helen Shields, 97.

“We kept writing for years, and more or less fell in love with the letters,” said Russell Shields, 96. His ships were sent to Pearl Harbor, North Africa, Sicily and Australia.

“Our letters kept us together all the time.”

That was more than 75 years ago. On March 11, the Shields, of St. Clair Shores, were set to celebrate 75 years of marriage, which produced seven children, 19 grandchildren, 33 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

“He asked me before he left if I’d marry him, and if I wouldn’t, he had a girl in Kansas,” Helen joked.

Helen said she sent letters to Russell not knowing where he was stationed during World War II. She had no idea he was at Pearl Harbor until after the attack because she sent all of her letters to San Francisco, and then they were just forwarded on to wherever he was at the time. Being on a Navy supply ship probably saved his life, said his daughter Judy Irving, of Grosse Pointe Woods.

“That’s one of the reasons he survived Pearl Harbor, because he was on one of the supply ships, not the battleships,” said Irving, the sixth of their seven children.

Russell served on the USS Whitney and the USS Selfridge. He said he enjoyed his time in the service — he recalled reboarding the ship in Africa carrying a big bunch of bananas — but when his six years of service were up, “they said, ‘You want to sign up for another?’ I said, ‘No. I got married. I’m going home.’”

“Then, after three years, he came home and we got married,” Helen said.

They were married on March 11, 1944, at St. Margaret Mary’s Church in Detroit.

Helen had come to Detroit for work as a hairdresser, but with the war on, she joined other women in the factories for the first three years of their marriage, while Russell finished his service in the Navy.

“We were Rosie the Riveters,” she said. She worked at Bridge Manufacturing on Connor Street riveting the arms of airplanes. “All my sisters worked there.”

When Russell returned, they moved to St. Clair Shores and he began working as a carpenter.

“All these veterans, when they came back, what they were trained (to do), they couldn’t get jobs when they got back,” Helen said.

“Supposedly, they were all trained for careers when they got out, but there weren’t the jobs, so he went into carpentry,” added Irving.

The couple raised their family in St. Clair Shores, where they have lived for 72 years. They moved into a house on Ridgemont Road, near Eight Mile Road, when their oldest son was a month or two old. Helen stayed home to raise the children because there was no transportation and she couldn’t drive.

Over the years, they’ve dealt with health challenges — Russell had three spine operations done within six weeks and has two artificial knees — but with the help of their children and Meals on Wheels, they’ve been able to stay in their St. Clair Shores home independently.

“There’s enough of us around that somebody can be here every day, and great neighbors,” Irving said.

About 100 people gathered to celebrate their 75 years together at the American Polish Cultural Center in Troy March 2. The couple came from large families: Helen is the last surviving sibling of a family of nine, and Russell is the oldest of eight children, several of which are still living.

Helen said it’s her grandchildren and great-grandchildren that keep her going. She wasn’t planning to dance at her party, though, because “I like the polka and he can’t dance with that knee. That’s past.”

“They’re like the Energizer bunnies. They keep going,” Irving said. “They want to make it to 100. They want to see their face on the Smucker’s jelly jar on the ‘Today’ show.”