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Woster: It might be only 20 years, but it’s a big deal to us

Kevin and Mary on their wedding day
Kevin Woster
Kevin and Mary on their wedding day.

The interview posted above is from SDPB's daily public affairs show, In the Moment with Lori Walsh.

Mary would just as soon I not write about this.

She’s the sixth of 10 kids from the Red and Shirley Garrigan family, after all, so she kind of assumes nobody would be interested.

And she kind of hopes they won’t be, too.

Not me. I’m the youngest of five, and even at 70, I still play the “baby of the family” role. So I pretty much assume that everybody is interested in what I’m up to, and what I have to say.

We won’t go into how many times that assumption has been wrong over the years. Not here, at least. This is about an anniversary, a 20th anniversary.

As Mary’s Uncle Loren liked to say: “Big deal. Big deal.”

It is a big deal, to Mary and me, although my four older siblings — who have been married to their first-and-forever spouses for a total of 223 years — might not consider it so, in years at least.

They were just getting warmed up when they hit 20 years. Now they’re all over 50 years of marriage and heading for 60.

Mary and I won’t hit 50 years together unless she lives to be 93 and I crack the century mark. Her mom died last year at 95, so 93 isn’t out of the question for her. For me, though, that 100 years is perhaps a bit beyond reach.

We’ll see, though, won’t we? And I’m not ruling anything out. After all, when I was 48, I was thinking I’d probably never get married again. I was almost sure of it, in fact.

Back then, staying single seemed like my fate

That was the summer of 2000. I’d gone through a divorce a decade earlier. It was a difficult process, of course, but my first wife and I managed to avoid hating each other or putting the kids in harm’s way of divorce-related resentments.

We still got along. We cooperated. We still cared about each other. We still do.

Not long after the divorce, I started seeing a woman I had known growing up back in Chamberlain and Reliance. And our initial dates turned into a 10-year relationship that ended in 2000.

That was sad, too. And hard.

But I had two kids I loved at O’Gorman High School, where they were busy with sports and other activities. I also had a job I loved writing news and columns at the Argus Leader when it was still a fully staffed newspaper with an impressive circulation.

Closing in on 50, I figured I had my kids and the news and hunting and fishing, and I was kind of thinking maybe that was enough.

After a failed 12-year marriage and a failed 10-year relationship after that marriage, I was also wondering if I was marriage material. A good friend and news colleague, Tena Haraldson, had sought to disabuse me of that notion years earlier, as she supported me during and after the divorce.

“Oh, Woster,” she said when I wondered if I was really meant to be married. “You’re the most married man I know.”

I think she meant that as a compliment. But I was unconvinced at the time.

Don’t lose your day job, or maybe consider the priesthood

I got a different kind of advice from another friend, a 6-foot-7 Irishman from Fort Pierre named Bernie Duffy Jr. Bernie was going through and recovering from his own divorce at about the same time I was and was in the same struggle.

He’s a Catholic, like me, and a storyteller, like me. Wait, no, he’s not like me as a storyteller. Bernie is in a class by himself as a storyteller — almost equal too, in a different way, to his older brother, Pat, a gifted lawyer who could weave webs of words to catch and hold you for hours.

Bernie’s stories were usually hilarious and often self-deprecating. They had the additional advantage of usually being true. But when he wasn’t making fun of himself he was making fun of me, which was more helpful than you might imagine during a time when taking yourself too seriously is easy to do.

We helped each other through some pretty tough times. And he gave me a couple of valuable pieces of advice: “Don’t ever lose your reporter’s job or we’ll have to shoot you. You can’t do anything else. And you should think about going to the seminary. You’d be a great pissed-off priest.”

Sorry about the vulgarity. But what could I do? It was a direct quote.

I worked hard to take his advice on the employment. But I figured there were enough grumpy priests already. (To all my priest friends, I’m just kidding … mostly.)

So I just figured I’d be a single dad, be deeply involved in the lives of my kids and, I hoped, someday my grandkids, and commit myself to them and my work in the newsroom until I was about 85 or so, then maybe retire and focus on my hunting and fishing.

A trip to Rapid City, a stop at the Journal to chat

And I was on my way along that trail in the fall of 2000, when I came to Rapid City to watch my daughter play in the state Class AA Girls Basketball Tournament. They lost the first game on Thursday and were playing in the afternoon on Friday.

Before the game, I stopped at the Rapid City Journal to see old pals and colleagues from the days a decade earlier when I was the newspaper’s full-time capital reporter in Pierre. After chats with Steve Miller and Ron Bender and Bill Harlan and Denise Ross and others, I strolled from the newsroom over to where sports and features were then located.

There I talked to Ron Wood and Don Lindner and Roger Toland and some other sports guys, and also said hello to Mary Garrigan in features.

That stop, of course, changed my life, in such a very good way.

Not the news folks or the sports guys, of course. It was my 10-minute visit with Mary, who had relatively recently — a year or so — gotten divorced from the aforementioned Pat Duffy, after 22 years of marriage.

Over that time, I’d known Pat better than I’d known Mary. He was an increasingly prominent lawyer who got involved in some high-profile cases and was unusual in the legal profession for his willingness to talk, on the record.

And he gave great quotes. I liked him. I think he liked me.

A relationship that started more than 40 years ago

I’d known Pat and Mary casually since 1978, when I was a, um, non-traditional journalism student (meaning older than most of my classmates) working as the editor of the SDSU Collegian, as a photographer at the Brookings Register, and as a journalism student who wasn’t doing much studying.

Somewhere in the blur of that year or a few months before, I met young, pretty Mary Duffy when she signed on to do some reporting for the Collegian. I met her husband, Pat, then, too, although I don’t remember that clearly.

I do remember liking him. And her.

I didn’t stick around SDSU long enough to get to know them well back then. My wife, Jaciel, got her journalism degree and took a job with UPI in Pierre, and we moved to the state capital. It would be almost five years before I spent time with Mary again.

I was in Sioux Falls working at the Argus Leader and Mary and Pat, now with three young sons, moved to Sioux Falls for a half dozen months or so, during which Mary worked at the Argus as a news clerk. Jaciel and I had 1-year-old Casey then and were in the process of moving to Pierre so I could work for the Argus there, covering the outdoors and helping with capital news coverage.

Mary and Pat came to a going-away bash in our tiny home south of McKennan Hospital, and Pat and I spent much of the evening talking politics, writing, and growing up in river country.

I would see Pat off and on over the next 20 years. But I rarely saw Mary, even though she edited some of the stories and columns I sent from Pierre when I was the Journal’s capital reporter and she worked on the copy desk.

Then I went back to Sioux Falls again and the Argus for a decade, while Mary stayed at the Journal and developed a smooth, fetching writing style as a food-and-religious writer and columnist.

Which is where our relationship was when I walked into the features department in November of 2000 and said “Hello, Mary.”

What an opening line, huh? Hang on, it got better from there.

Between two reporters, there were lots of emails

It was a short conversation. But we followed up with some emails. And some more emails. And some more. And then some phone calls. And by late January of 2001, I lined up some reporting work for the Argus in the Black Hills so Mary and I could have our first date.

Obviously, it wasn’t our last.

That June I proposed to her during a picnic of sorts up on Medicine Butte, a few miles from the old Woster farm in Lyman County north of Reliance. The butte, which holds deep spiritual significance to the Lower Brule Lakotas, is just off Highway 47, which runs from Reliance to Mary’s hometown of Highmore, a connection that seemed appropriate.

And a year later, on July 8, 2002, my cousin, Monsignor Mike Woster, who grew up on my aunt and uncle’s farm two miles down the road from ours, married us during the regular 5:30 p.m. daily mass at the Lady’s Chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral here in Rapid.

I brought a son, Casey, and a daughter, Meghan, to the union. Mary brought three sons, Padraic, Conor, and Sean, and a daughter, Lisa. Now between my four grandchildren and her 14, we have quite a crew.

It took us a while to rack up more years of marriage than we have grandchildren. But we got it done. We think the grandkids are done coming. But the years aren’t.

Twenty years of marriage, at our age, might not be much stacked up against 50 or 60, or more. But those 20 years have been a gift I couldn’t have imagined back in the summer of 2000, a few months before my charmed visit to the Journal newsroom and that simple, life-changing hello.

Click here to access the archive of Woster's past work for SDPB.