Coffee in bed, for 63 years
Editor’s note: We here at the Star wanted to do something special for Valentine’s Day, something beyond the proverbial heart-shaped chocolates and flowers. We wanted to tell a story that wasn’t syrupy sweet but was still real, a story of love in the long-term, the kind where you dig down with your heels and decide to stay. The kind where you discover riches in the most ordinary of places. So here’s a Valentine’s Day love story for everyone, with a Chugiak-Eagle River twist. When you walk into Lee and Barbara Jordan’s house out in Chugiak, it feels like coming home.
The wood floor shines, and light pours in through the windows. Huge goldfish swim around an aquarium and every so often a bird twitters from its cage, and if you stay long enough, you might glimpse one of their cats.
It’s the kind of place where you don’t have to take off your shoes when you walk in the door, where the sofa is comfy and the dogs are allowed to jump up and curl next to you and beg for pieces of your homemade oatmeal cookies.
The house, you see, is a lot like Lee and Barbara.
The Jordans, who have been married for 63 years, met in at Lou’s Café in downtown Anchorage back in 1951, before statehood, when Alaska was still a territory. Lee, who grew up in Alabama, was working at the Anchorage Times and was also part of the Army Signal Corp. Barbara was still a student at Anchorage School and worked evenings at the cafe after school.
“It was a hole in the wall kind of place,” Lee said.
He ate dinner there every night and always ordered the same thing: chicken friend steak, which came with a small bowl of peas he never touched.
One night Barbara asked him, “Why don’t you eat your peas?”
“So, I started paying attention to her,” he said with a laugh.
“He was so cute,” Barbara said. “He was a polite Southern boy with good manners. I think we got along from the beginning.”
Barbara was working two jobs and attending school.
“I wasn’t looking for a mate,” she said. “But I liked him.”
They married about six weeks later, on June 27, 1951, right after Barbara graduated from high school.
“I wouldn’t change a day of it,” Barbara said.
“She survived some of the worst conditions,” Lee said. “It was the coldest winter, down to minus 25, and our furnace wouldn’t work.”
“We had an electric blanket,” Barbara said.
Not long after, the Army transferred the Jordans down to Seattle. They longed to return to Alaska as soon as they arrived and they did, too, about six months later.
Children soon followed, Steve, in 1953, Sonja in 1955, Sherri in 1957 and Sven, nicknamed Ole, in 1965.
The family moved out to Chugiak in 1962.
They weren’t looking to move but when a realtor friend mentioned to Lee a property in Birchwood, they headed out to take a look and found a sign hanging in the yard: 3 BR Horse Furn.
“The kids got all excited when they saw the horse sign,” Lee said.
Lightfoot, the horse, came with the house purchase.
“He was the only horse out in Chugiak at the time,” Barbara said.
The Jordans packed up, and Lee moved his print shop out to Chugiak.
He later started the Alaska Star on Jan. 14, 1971.
The only local paper at the time was the Knik Arm Courier. Lee wanted to highlight the political issues impacting the area.
“There was a lot happening out here that wasn’t getting covered,” he said. “There was talk of unification of the city and borough and people in this area were opposed.”
Putting out a paper by themselves proved to be time-consuming.
“If I hadn’t of liked it, I wouldn’t have put up with it,” Lee said.
Every Wednesday, he stayed up all night pushing to get the paper out on time.
“Every week, every week,” Barbara said. “But I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.”
Those were happy and hectic times. They were busy raising a family and working, Lee with the newspaper and Barbara with her fabric shop, Frontier Fabric and Craft.
They remember only one fight in all the years they’ve been together, and that was over one of their son’s baseball positions.
“It seems so silly now,” Barbara said.
“She’s always happy,” Lee said, looking over at her. “Our kids are successful and that’s because she listened to them.”
And then there was baseball, which Lee became interested in when his son joined Little League. Thirty years later, he’s still involved with the sport.
“Between the newspaper, fabric shop and baseball, there wasn’t much time for trouble,” Barbara said.
Lee sold the Star to Morris Communications in 2000.
“Our children had all seen the hours we put in and the fact that it didn’t pay well, so they wanted no part in taking it over,” Lee said.
It was a hard decision, they both agreed.
“It’s still difficult,” Barbara said.
“We miss the people and being involved in everything,” Lee said. “But I was 70-years-old. Wednesday nights were getting really old.”
Even without the paper, they’re still happy.
“People tease us because we walk around holding hands,” Lee said.
“He brings me coffee every morning,” Barbara added.
The way Barbara tells it, when Lee asked her to marry him she told him sure, but only if he brought her coffee in bed each morning
“We wake up every morning and lie in bed and talk and solve the world’s problems,” Lee said.
As far as the future, they have no big plans. They just want to be together, sharing the small treasures of one another’s company.
And sometimes the whole family gets together and plays baseball on the field their son, Steve, built 52 years ago, all of them together, the four children, four grandsons, five granddaughters and four great-grandsons.
“I just want to be able to keep our family together,” Lee said.
“We’ve been,” Barbara said, “really lucky.”