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Neighbors: For one local couple, proposal came on night of first date

Bob Lind, Neighbors columnist

You hear about love at first sight occasionally. But how about a guy who proposed to a girl on the night he met her?

That's what Jim Hougen did. Here's the story of this romance in a flash.

In the late 1940s, Jim was helping his father run Leonard's Clothing Store in Larimore, N.D. The girl was Vella Olson, a teacher in South Dakota.

Jim had attended Concordia College, where his roommate was Lloyd Olson, of Langford, S.D., Vella's cousin.

Lloyd wanted Vella and Jim to meet. So he arranged a blind date for them for New Year's Eve 1950.

That night, Lloyd and Jim drove to Vella's home in rural Langford to pick her up.

And when they met — well, it was a memorable moment.Their daughter Susan Lieberg tells Neighbors that her dad said, "I fell in love with your mom when I first saw her chin dip down and lean into the car window to say 'hello' to me."

And he proposed to her that night.

Vella took a while to think it over. But not long. She said yes the next day.

And that led to a Double W: a Wedding and a Wheelbarrow.

A royal ride

Susie says that when Jim went home and told his parents Leonard and Gladys Hougen that he was engaged, Leonard "was so shocked that he fell into a stack of shoes in the back room of the clothing store." Grandma Gladys was skeptical, but Dad says that she fell in love with Mom too the first time she came up to meet the Hougen family.

"I also remember Dad talking about quick trips he'd make to see Mom in South Dakota. A couple of them involved storms and bad roads, but he had to see his sweetheart."

One was an extra trip he had to make because he got the first marriage license too early and it expired, so he had to drive down to get a second one.

Jim gave Vella her engagement ring on Valentine's Day 1951. Then they announced their engagement to their family at a picnic on Easter Sunday in Turtle River State Park near Larimore.

They were married Aug. 1, 1951, in the Langford Lutheran church.

Of course, a reception followed the ceremony. And how did the newlyweds get there? By the bridegroom pushing his bride in a wheelbarrow.

Making the run

Here's how this happened: Friends of the couple had "stolen" Jim's car and left a wheelbarrow in its place.

So Jim told Vella, "Get right in and let's get going."

He also told his parents, "You'll have to run to keep up with me," and run they did, on the whole three-block trip.

Other folks ran, too. Susie remembers her dad telling her he looked over his shoulder and saw women in high heels and dresses and clutching their hats running behind them.

Jane, another of Jim's and Vella's daughters, said the wedding cake served at the reception, made by Vella's friend Lillian Dwight, was three tiers high, and Lillian had to work hard to set it up straight. "But it was a good cake," Jane was told.

After the reception, the newlyweds left on their honeymoon, stopping first at Pierpont Dam about 8 miles away to wash the "just married" writing off their car (which had been returned to them, so Jim didn't have to push Vella on their wedding trip in a wheelbarrow).

They spent their first night in the honeymoon cabin in Redfield, S.D., then went on to Rapid City, S.D., the Black Hills, Devils Tower, Yellowstone Park, the site of the battle of the Little Bighorn, Billings, Mont., and Froid, Mont., then returned home to Larimore.

When the Hougens celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2001, their family used golden wheelbarrows as part of the decorations and all of the Hougen kids wore bright yellow T-shirts printed with a sketch of their parents' wedding wheelbarrow ride.

Their family

Jim and Vella had seven children: John, now of Bismarck; Jane, Bismarck; Ardis Kraft, Olathe, Kan.; Charles, who died in 1984; David, Larimore; Paul, who died in 2010; and Susan, Greenbush, Minn. They also had 10 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Jim died Christmas morning 2012. Vella died in 2017. But the family they left behind have many stories about them, including their dad's fast action with their mom and their long-lasting marriage that began with a romantic wheelbarrow ride.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107, fax it to 241-5487 or email