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Love at first sight

Once upon a time there lived a tall, handsome man who played softball with neighborhood friends. Then one day, a beautiful milk maiden drove by and captured the young lad's heart and they lived happily ever after.

It has been more than six decades since the fairy tale between Jim and Frances North began, and according to Jim, the story gets better each year. He attributes the longevity of their marriage to a simple recipe: Learn to be patient, respect one another's viewpoints and set goals that both partners can attain.

Frances and Jim's lives converged at a Tukwila park in 1938. Frances deviated from her usual milk delivery route that day to watch a softball game. Jim happened to be on the team. One of his friends jokingly told Jim to help Frances deliver the milk, which he did, and he got a kiss in return.

"It was love at first sight," Jim recalled. "I never had a girlfriend before, but I knew that she was the one."

Frances, however, might have been more interested in Jim's intellectual capacity than his dashing good looks.

"I had some competitors," Jim said. "But a niece told me that Frances picked me because I went to college and got a degree."

Other suitors weren't the only obstacle Jim needed to tackle. Frances' father, Archie Codiga, was known to scare any would-be dates away from his three daughters. But instead of running Jim off, Codiga put him in charge of cleaning up the cow manure at the family's dairy farm.

After Jim won the approval of Frances' father, the couple dedicated their lives to one another on Feb. 13, 1942.

The newlyweds moved to Washington, D.C., the following year to become part of the Redskins franchise. Jim donned the No. 42 jersey and a leather helmet for the professional football team as right tackle. He earned $275 a game, which was an honorable salary back then because some players garnered only $150.

Jim's stint in the NFL wouldn't extend past his rookie year, however, because Frances' father passed away and the couple needed to run the family farm.

"I finished the season and I didn't have any regrets," Jim said.

He continued his football career at Mount Si High School, where he coached the Wildcats for 28 years. When he retired in 1973, he switched from watching his boys hammer their opponents to hammering political signs around the Valley for his wife.

Frances was determined to become a state legislator and she already had six years' experience as a councilwoman for the city of North Bend. Her campaign was a success and she represented her constituents for 10 years in Olympia.

"The representatives thought a lot of her because she was bipartisan and got along well with everyone," Jim said. "My own feelings are that they were afraid she was going to run for governor."

Frances ended her political career in the early 1980s and the Norths decided to explore the world by boat, plane and putter. The twosome traveled to exotic destinations such as Europe, the Caribbean and Hawaii, where they enjoyed many leisurely games of golf.

There was still plenty for the couple to do at their home in North Bend. They had a flourishing garden to maintain, friends to see and a handful of spoiled cats to scratch.

Frances' niece, Annette Lund, said her aunt is a well-known animal lover who would always welcome any creature in need. Frances even took her dog, Tinkerbell, to Europe in 1960. Somehow Tinkerbell got lost in the city and Frances had local police searching for her four-legged companion, Lund said. Tinkerbell was found and the story is now part of the North legacy.

About a year and a half ago the couple made another major life decision. Frances needed additional care for her Parkinson's disease so she moved to Medina Heights in North Bend.

"Throughout the years they did a lot of vacationing and living their lives together even though they had separate paths. They were always very supportive of each other in their personal endeavors," said Frances' niece, Nancy Webb. "In some ways [Jim] seems more attentive and close to her at this time of their lives."

Lund adds that Jim's tough exterior is "all bark and no bite" and that he's actually a "soft marshmallow" inside - an attribute not usually given to burly football players.

The change has been quite challenging for Jim, but he said he is thankful for the 60 years they have had together, especially since their families thought their marriage wouldn't last more than six months.

"We gathered a lot of experiences and made a lot of adjustments," he said with a smile. "We had many laughs and many tears and we're very happy to be together today."

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