by Olivia Hefner
It begins like any other good love story – boy meets girl. She was a slight, pretty curly-haired twelve-year-old girl. John was a tall, gangly thirteen year-old with a knack for sports and an eye for one certain girl. It didn’t take long before these two became inseparable; not much has changed since. Sixty-four years later, John and JoAnn Hefner are still together.
“I let him chase me until I let him catch me,” JoAnn said as she teased John about how they ended up being a couple. John smiles and says that he is “just lucky to have her.” John and JoAnne grew up in Cedar Grove and still reside there to this day.
“I can remember going over to her house after school and having to walk home late at night – it was completely dark out. I always just hoped to sneak back into the house before mother noticed I was gone,” John said, “We spent all of our time together. One winter, we just had gobs of snow and Jo had the perfect sled. My, it was a beautiful sled. A buddy and me took off riding it and crashed it into a tree; that thing split into a million pieces – we really mangled that thing. I told her that I would buy her a new one, but I guess I never did.”
True Big Reds through and through, John and JoAnn are both graduates from Parkersburg High School and both were highly active in sports. “I was in the GAA (Girls Athletic Association) and monitored an eighth grade boys’ gym class. I taught them how to climb ropes and everything,” she said. John was an All-American baseball player, a prominent member of the football team and the quarterback of the 1952 North/South Game.
“After I graduated, I thought about attending Fairmont. However, once I got there, I saw all these grammatical and spelling errors on their entrance papers – and I pointed them out. For some reason, it just wasn’t the school for me,” JoAnn said with sarcasm in her voice.
John played basketball for Salem University and the University of Charleston, but his draft number for the military was coming up quick. To avoid an unfortunate draft, John enlisted in the United States Air Force. Before John deployed, he and JoAnn were married. They then moved to Illinois where John was stationed. There, they had their first child, a daughter named Suzanne.
As is military custom, John was transferred to a base in San Antonio, Texas. While being stationed in Texas, John was riding on the back of a truck on base. The driver was speeding through the base and an unexpected curve caught him by surprise. Unable to handle the curve, John was thrown from the back of the truck and proceeded to roll head over heels multiple times. Although on the outside he looked fine, John had suffered severe brain trauma. He was whisked off to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in New York. “I had to go with him, but I couldn’t take care of both him and Suzanne. I had to send her home to stay with her grandmother while I stayed in New York tending to John. That was really hard,” JoAnn said.
With the severe brain damage, the doctors didn’t think he would recover, but love has a way of healing things. “The doctors didn’t even think he would make it, one of his surgeons even sewed a needle up in his head thinking that it wouldn’t matter either way,” JoAnn said. While John was there, JoAnn was like a surrogate mother to all the injured soldiers. “The hospital would host movies and every time there was a show, I would line all the men up in their wheelchairs by the elevator. I would take them down two by two until everyone was situated.”
Once John was discharged from the Air Force with an honorable discharge, the pair returned to Parkersburg and their daughter who was then 18 months old. Although, they were home, things were still rough. “I can remember sitting on the floor, crying and feeling so overwhelmed by the amount of pills I had to make sure were organized for John,” JoAnn said. “I certainly couldn’t have done it without her,” he said.
John was not a quitter and went back to school to support his family. He graduated from Parkersburg Community College and started work at Shell Chemical. He and JoAnn had their second and final child, a boy named after his father.
Now, John helps JoAnn as she is recovering from two open-heart surgeries within two months. “I promised that I would be there through all of it, and that I wouldn’t leave her side,” he said. He held true to his promise, and both are still living in Cedar Grove.
Now, the couple travel, spend time with their grandchildren and just take life one day at a time. So, their story ends as any good love story does – a man and a woman, growing old together and still being in love.