How Two Fools Have Stayed in Love

Rita and Rich Barger married on April Fool’s Day 1969, but they are no fools. Their love and stable marriage has evolved into its 42nd year. And, according to Rich, “It’s been easy.”

They met as band members of the Marching Mizzou in college. Rita played snare and Rich played bass drum.

Why do fools fall in love?
Why do birds sing so gay?
And lovers await the break of day
Why do they fall in love?
(lyrics sung by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers)

Friendship and their love of music deepened their relationship until one day, Rich drops to his knees in a sorority-packed Columbia restaurant, called Ernie’s, and asks Rita to marry him. He stubbornly refuses to allow her to open the ring box until she answers. The whole establishment applauds when she accepts.

For Rita, the hardest year of marriage was year one. “I had to learn Rich’s idiosyncrasies like being very strong-willed, extremely private, and not liking to share gifts on set occasions or holidays,” says Rita.

Rich says the hardest years of their long-term marriage for him were when Rita was in her Ph.D program, teaching, and working or studying constantly. “The three years prior to her Ph.D. work, we went to 53 movies a year,” says Rich. “We loved going to the movies together and haven’t been able to indulge on that level since.”

Nevertheless, Rich says he definitely married up in quality. “She’s smarter, harder working, more organized, and I love her unconditionally.”

The first seven years of marriage they lived apart and spent half of their time commuting. At the end of Rich’s service in the Air Force during the Vietnam era, he worked the family’s farm and as an economic analyst for Cargill in Minneapolis.

Rita applied at every school in a 50-mile radius of their apartment in Blackburn, Mo., only to land a teaching position 70 miles away in Kansas City, Mo. Though she kept giving notice each year in an effort to move back near her husband, Rich finally caved and moved to Kansas City where they reside today.

They have no secrets to their successful marriage other than they’re fully committed, have learned to enjoy themselves even more through the years, and particularly like to travel, play bridge, and go to the movies together.

Unlike the norm, they have only one working television set in the house and never had children. Like the norm, they’re complete opposites. Rita loves people and Rich does not. “My idea of hell is a cocktail party,” says Rich.

“My idea of hell is a cocktail party.”

Crowds may not be his bag, but gags are. When Rita picked up a new pair of prescription glasses, she quickly learned they had been ground incorrectly. She could barely stay upright when stepping off a curb and had to tip them up to see.

So one day she comes home to a house where Rich has placed all the pictures and wall hangings at a 45-degree angle. Rita had to walk around for days tipping her glasses up to determine if it was her eyes, her glasses, or her husband at it again.

Here’s to 20 more years of April Fool’s jokes for these two tigers.


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