Norman "Happy" and Dorothy Bettenhausen visit the Phillips Chevrolet memorabilia display case depicting the dealership's long history in Frankfort. The couple, who will be married for 70 years on June 17, have represented Phillips Chevrolet in 131 parades in the Lincoln-Way area over the last 38 years. | Ginger Brashinger/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 13, 2014 6:03AM
Norman “Happy” Bettenhausen and his wife Dorothy have lived an all-American love story for nearly 80 years.
Boy meets girl next door; they fall in love, marry and live happily ever after.
The happy couple, both of whom will be 90 this year, will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary Tuesday. Their relationship really began when they became neighbors at age 11 and Happy already had his eye on her, he said.
Childhood sweethearts, Happy and Dorothy each have fond memories of growing up in a small town — Happy in Frankfort, and Dorothy in Mokena.
“The fence line (between the houses) was the determining point for school,” Happy said. “I had to go to school in Frankfort and she had to go to school in Mokena.”
That small detail didn’t keep the couple apart.
The Bettenhausens reminisced about a happy childhood during a simpler time, with no electricity or indoor plumbing, but when “one thing we had ... was family,” Happy said.
They both agreed the people of their small hometowns were like extended family.
“Going to Frankfort school, every house, you knew who they were, you almost knew what church they went to and you knew the name of their dog,” Happy said.
“At every house, you knew who they were and they said, ‘Good morning’ if they were outside,” Dorothy said.
The Bettenhausens have lived through the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, the 9/11 terrorist attacks and a severe economic downturn, but nothing has changed their attitude about life and their commitment to each other.
They are what some might call the salt of the earth.
Happy was working by the time he was 14, at his Uncle Otto’s garage in New Lenox, making $1 a day plus a hamburger and a glass of beer for lunch.
After high school — Happy graduated in 1942 and Dorothy in 1943 — the couple married in 1944 and began their new life in Frankfort, where they lived until moving to Manteno in 1989.
In 1948, Happy opened a body shop in Tinley Park, and Dorothy was a stay-at-home mom to the couple’s three sons until becoming a nurse in 1961. By 1972, Dorothy had become a registered nurse, working at the Tinley Park Health Center, McAllister Nursing Home and Frankfort Terrace nursing home before she retired from nursing in 1986.
Happy has yet to retire. After selling his body shop business to Phillips Chevrolet’s predecessor, Warning Chevrolet, Happy operated a used car lot in Frankfort before he found his calling in 1976 as a salesman for Phillips Chevrolet in Frankfort.
Enough people responded to his signature slogan, “Ask for the guy with the Chevy bowtie,” to make Happy the top salesman for 10 years in a row with record-setting sales of “43 units in one month,” he said.
He feels pretty confident that his record hasn’t yet been broken.
Happy’s motto, “Love what you do and do what you love,” has worked well for him for 38 years at Phillips Chevrolet.
Not content to be a top salesman, Happy has taken care of the flowers in the dealership’s landscaping for more than 25 years, helped write the monthly newsletter for 15 years, and gathered Phillips Chevrolet memorabilia for display in a glass case at the dealership.
A source of pride for both Bettenhausens is their role as Phillips Chevrolet representatives in the Lincoln-Way area parades in New Lenox, Frankfort, Mokena and Manhattan throughout the spring and summer.
“I’ve run my 131st parade for Phillips ... Dorothy and me,” Happy said. “We do all the parades in the four different towns every year.”
Happy has also kept busy “putting on sing-alongs” at area rest homes for the past 35 years. He’s a self-taught accordion player whose band, “Happy’s Polka Band,” played at the Joliet depot for President Gerald Ford when he passed through the area, and Happy was a regular at Die Bier Stube in Frankfort for many years.
Dorothy said she doesn’t mind Happy being gone so much, working and volunteering.
“It doesn’t make any difference to me as long as he’s happy,” she said. “He enjoys it because he enjoys people.”
The couple have had a common-sense approach to marital bliss.
“I always say it’s communication,” Dorothy said. “That’s what I feel is a really big thing in marriage. Sometimes you just listen and sometimes you put your two cents in.
“I don’t think we’ve ever done anything on our own without letting the other one know what we are doing, where we are going,” she said.
“I tell her everything that happens,” Happy said. “If you don’t, there’s dissent and wonder. A lot of that can never be healed.”
Happy referred to a Helen Steiner Rice poem about marriage that seemed to sum it up for the happy couple.
”Laughing together, weeping together, praying together,” Happy said. “It’s all in there.”