Before his ninth-grade year at Casa High School in 1946, Carroll West had received his primary education inside a one-room schoolhouse near Petit Jean State Park. One teacher taught first- through eighth-grade. By ninth grade, now in the full bloom of puberty, he was ready to expand his educational opportunities and his romantic horizons, as it were.
Enter Donna Faye Jaynes, another ninth-grader.
"I was really quite infatuated with her," he says. "'Bout midway through the ninth grade we started liking each other, and by the time we got into the 10th grade we were madly in love."
She remembers him as being "so nice, and so polite. I thought he was just wonderful."
Now, the remarkable thing was that Casa's high school wasn't much bigger than West's one-room schoolhouse. Just three other seniors would graduate with Donna and Carroll three years later. The two were in all the same classes -- English, math, science and geography. The latter, being the study of far-away lands, helped them realize that 10 miles wasn't such an impediment to their love life in the greater, wider world.
"We lived about 10 miles away from each other and I didn't have a car. The only way we would see each other was at school and at school functions," he says. "It was another couple of years before I was old enough to borrow Daddy's car and go over to see her on the weekends."
He was just 15 on the afternoon he asked her to be his wife.
"I was madly in love, and I was over at her house one Sunday afternoon and I said, 'Donna, I know we're too young to get married now, but when we get old enough, would you marry me?'" he says. "And she said, 'Yes.' It was just understood that at some point down the line, we would eventually marry."
They graduated from high school in 1950.
Carroll knew he didn't want to farm. "I grew up on a small farm, and there was no way to make money there."
Carroll's uncle, who worked for the city of Little Rock, was in town quail hunting in January 1951 and Carroll told him he would like to go back with him to look for a job. His uncle's friend in Little Rock hired him at a funeral home. A few months later, though, he got a job with his uncle working on Blakely Mountain Dam around Hot Springs, which, when finished, would create Lake Ouachita.
"My uncle and I were visiting Casa on one Sunday afternoon, and it was decided that if it rained the next day to where we could not work, he would bring me back up there, and Donna and I would get married," Carroll says. "They knew we wanted to get married -- that wasn't in question -- it was just a matter of when."
Donna's family didn't have a phone so Carroll had no way of letting her know he would be off work, so she didn't know it was their wedding day until he showed up midmorning.
"I told her, 'Donna, tonight we're getting married,'" he says.
Carroll's family didn't know until then, either, but as soon as they found out, Carroll's father left for Perryville so he could get their marriage license.
Carroll's grandfather, a Missionary Baptist minister, officiated their ceremony that evening, June 11, 1951, at Donna's family's home.
Carroll had seen an apartment for rent in Hot Springs that morning and although he couldn't cover the $50 monthly rent at that time, the landlord agreed to let him pay $12.50 a week. After they exchanged vows, Carroll and Donna drove back to that apartment, and at 6:30 the next morning, Carroll went to work.
Then it rained almost two weeks straight.
"I actually got to work four hours the first two weeks we were married. I think we had $85 between us when we got married and I worked four hours so I made $5 in two weeks, but somehow we survived," he says. "Then the weather changed. On this kind of work, when the weather was good we would work 12 hours a day, seven days a week. And then in one stretch we worked for 28 consecutive days, so I got a little bit of money during that time."
When that construction job ended, Carroll got a job as a bookkeeper for Acme Brick and eventually transferred to Fort Smith, where they live now. He retired from that company in 1995.
The Wests have three children -- Steve West, Cynthia Hansen and John West. They also have four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
For their 60th anniversary, they took their family on an Alaskan cruise. This year's celebration was a bit more quiet and introspective.
"I can't remember everything. But it has been a wonderful life," she says. "It has just been wonderful."
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High Profile on 08/03/2014
Print Headline: Lovebirds knew at 15 that they’d one day wed