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COUPLE'S FAMILY TREE SIZE OF A REDWOOD.

Byline: DENNIS McCARTHY

Nellie Grimes was 7 and Carl Herman, 6, in 1915 when they first laid eyes on each other in a one-room Kansas schoolhouse in the middle of the Dust Bowl.

They hit it off and began walking to school together from their nearby family farms. When the weather was bad, they'd jump on Nellie's dad's horse and let it take them to school.

Their friendship grew to love and on Aug. 18, 1928, Nellie and Carl tied the knot in the pastor's parsonage in Reserve, Kan.

Nellie, now 99, and Carl, 98, will be celebrating their 80th wedding anniversary in a few weeks surrounded by a family tree that has grown to more than 100 members since they got hitched.

"It's pretty incredible to think their marriage has lasted 80 years when a lot of marriages these days don't last 80 days," says Ben Herman, oldest of the couple's five children. He's 79.

It is pretty incredible -- even more so when you know the humble, harsh beginning 80 years ago when a couple of kids, not yet even 20 years old, were starting a family during the Great Depression on farms smack in the middle of the infamous Dust Bowl.

If you want to put faces on the tough, pioneer spirit of this country, look at Nellie and Carl Herman.

"We stayed with both our families off and on after we were married, but it became harder and harder to raise crops in the middle of that dry Dust Bowl and support both families," Nellie says.

"We were in the middle of the Great Depression. There wasn't adequate water for the crops. We had no money and no future for our kids.

"Carl and I used to sing songs about moving West, and one night, sitting out on the porch, he made up his mind we were going to do it, go West."

It was 1941 by then, and they had five children ranging in age from 9 months to 11 years. They were dirt poor, living off a 100-pound sack of potatoes, driving west on Highway 66 in a homemade motorhome.

"Carl bought an old, red Chevy or Ford flatbed and built a motorhome on it," Nellie says. "He and his brother built the sides, a roof, and put in a stove and mattress.

"In the corner, he built a punching bag for when the boys got antsy sitting back there. It was quite a journey."

When Carl got too tired to drive, he'd give the wheel to Ben, who was all of 11 1/2.

"I learned to drive at 9 and had been sitting between my daddy's legs helping him drive the tractor since I was 6," Ben says.

"I could hardly reach the pedals of that motorhome, but I drove it."

Headed to California, the Hermans left Kansas the day after Christmas 1941, arrived in Glendale the day after New Year's and lived in that old makeshift motorhome for more than a month.

"Carl got a job as a mechanic, and later a job at Lockheed, while I went looking for a place that would rent to a family with five kids," Nellie says.

"Nobody wanted us. I finally got so frustrated I yelled at one woman: 'What do you want me to do? Take these children and drop them in the ocean?'

"She took pity on me, and we had our first apartment over on Hawthorne Street, not far from Sears."

When the steady paychecks started coming in from Lockheed, Nellie and Carl bought a small tract home out in a new, up-and-coming place called Canoga Park.

They grew old together, watching their family tree grow.

Besides five kids, they have 20 grandkids, 50 great-grandchildren, and several great-great-grandchildren.

Near as anyone can tell, the total count on that family tree now is around 150, Nellie says.

That's what you get when you've been married 80 years and you're pushing 100: a lot of family, loving you.

"Eighty years," Nellie says Friday, while Carl wakes up from a nap. "That is a long time."

Yeah, it is. Happy anniversary.

dennis.mccarthy@dailynews.com, (818) 713-3749

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(1 -- 3) Married almost 80 years, Carl and Nellie Herman, above right, were wed in Kansas in 1928, above left, and moved to California with their five kids in 1941.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 3, 2008
Words:727
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