By Ethan Colbert
Before Bill Richard, 87, heads out the door of the rural Bowling Green home that he shares with his wife, Betty, 84, he stops to remind her that he loves her.
It is a ritual that the couple began when Bill and Betty were newlyweds and living in Louisiana. The Richards continued the ritual through the two years that they lived at Fort Riley, Kan., through the years of living in a rented apartment on Frankford Road in Louisiana and through the decades that they have lived in rural Bowling Green.
Ultimately, the couple estimate that they may have said ‘I love you’ more than 410,000 times.
And when Bill repeated the words on Friday, February 9, Betty said it still made her heart flutter.
“Saying it so often, doesn’t make it any less special, at least not to us,” Betty said. Instead, the Richards say the words remind them of the journey that their love has taken them on.
The couple met when Bill Richard was a senior at Louisiana High School. Betty (nee Hudson) Richard was a freshman, who was struck by the tall senior with a “twinkle in his eye.”
“A good friend of mine, Betty Love Akers, introduced us at the first football game of my freshman year,” Betty said. “He was a good looking guy. I don’t why, but when Betty introduced us, I just thought that I really wanted to go with him.”
The former Miss Hudson was afraid that the elder Richard would find her “silly.”
To the contrary, Bill Richard found himself wanting to spend more and more time with the freshman.
“I don’t know,” Richard said. “I guess we were just attracted to one another.”
About a month after their initial meeting, Betty confided in a friend that she “was going to marry Bill Richard one day.”
Yet, their high school romance shared its fair share of ups and downs.
Betty’s mother, Frances Hudson, nixed the couple’s first scheduled date to the Clark Theater on a Friday night in 1947.
When Bill came to the door to pick-up Betty for their scheduled date, Frances said her daughter had went out driving with some friends and had not returned. However, Betty was inside the house.
“My mother refused to let me go,” Betty said. “I told her that she would have to go to the door and tell him I wasn’t home.”
As Bill returned to his car, he said he was both embarrassed and wondering why Betty had skipped out on their date.
“It was a pretty heavy blow,” Bill said. At school the following Monday, Bill ignored Betty. His cold shoulder would eventually thaw and the couple renewed their courtship, but kept it limited to within the walls of Louisiana High School.
Later that school year, Betty’s parents came around to the idea of their only daughter dating an older high school senior and agreed to let Betty go out on a date with Bill.
Their second first date was to a May Day fundraiser for Louisiana’s elementary school.
When the couple arrived at the school, the line was very nearly out the door.
“So, instead, we went down the street to the Wahl Hotel, which also had a restaurant,” Betty said. “I was too bashful to eat anything, so I just drank a soda. It was the first date I ever had. To go out and eat in front of a guy that you really liked was really nerve racking. I couldn’t eat anything.”
While his date’s stomach was in knots, Bill said he never doubted that Betty was enjoying the outing.
After their date at the Wahl Hotel, Bill and Betty’s courtship would continue off-and-on during the remaining years that Betty was in high school.
Years later, Bill acknowledged that he would end his relationship with Betty right before days like Valentine’s Day, Christmas, or other significant holidays.
“I didn’t have any money to buy her gifts,” Bill said in an interview. “I didn’t want her to know that I didn’t have any money, so I would just break up with her.”
After the initial shock of the break up, Betty said she realized why Bill was breaking up with her.
“I caught on to what he was doing,” Betty said. According to Betty, it only made her love him more.
It was during one of these brief interludes in their relationship that a friend visited Betty, who proposed to her and confessed that he was madly in love with her.
Betty said she declined the proposal.
“I told him, that I couldn’t marry him because I was in love with Bill Richard,” Betty said. “I knew I couldn’t get married, unless it was to Bill. I had faith that Bill was going to propose to me, but I think that Bill got a little nervous that someone had proposed to me.”
Word quickly spread throughout Louisiana that another man had left a jewelry store with a ring that many believed was bound for Betty’s finger.
Bill said when he first heard the news, “it was like a jolt went through his body.”
“I knew my chance wasn’t gone,” Bill said. “I had more confidence in Betty and in our relationship than that.”
So on Christmas morning in 1952, Bill presented Betty with a large box.
Betty began unwrapping the large box and the other seven boxes contained within the large box. Within the last of the boxes was a box containing an engagement ring from Strother’s Jewelry Company, of Louisiana.
“I thought it would be a funny prank,” Bill said. “Gee whiz, though it was a lot of work to wrap all of those boxes.”
As she opened the final box, Betty said she spotted the engagement ring.
“By the time I unwrapped it, I was so excited that I just stuck it on my finger,” Betty said. “Then I wanted him to propose to me properly, but he said, ‘No, what was the use, since I had already put the ring on.’”
Three months later, Bill Richard and Betty Hudson were married at the First Presbyterian Church of Louisiana. The Reverend Treece officiated the ceremony.
Betty said she particularly recalls a few moments of the ceremony.
“Walking down the aisle was like heaven,” Betty said. “My dreams of marrying Bill Richard were coming true.”
On the other end of the aisle, Bill said it was his turn to have his stomach in knots.
“I was scared to death,” Bill said. “I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing. A relation of my mine had told me that I was not acting right. He said I was acting like I was in another world, and I probably was. Betty had told me that we were going to be married forever and forever was a long time. However, when I saw her walk down the aisle, I decided then and there that I needed to marry her.”
One of the moments of the ceremony that Betty said she doesn’t remember is the recessional, where Bill said she practically dragged him out the sanctuary.
“She was like running out of the church,” Bill said.
According to Betty, she was just ready to begin her married life, which included some occasional culinary mishaps.
“The first meal that I ever prepared for Bill as his wife was fried shrimp,” Betty said. “However, I didn’t know until later that you were supposed to take the shell off of the shrimp.”
Bill said that while his wife was apologetic for the mishap, he said he didn’t mind them.
“I knew she would get to be a better cook and eventually she did,” Bill said.
Eventually, Bill and Betty would become the parents of two children, Debra “Debbie” Richard and William Clark “Billy Clark” Richard. The couple would later adopt two children, Jack Richard and Renee Cohea.
Billy Clark was struck and killed by a teenage motorist on November 7, 1969. According to the archives of the Bowling Green Times, Billy Clark was riding his bicycle near Tarrant’s Village when the teenage driver struck him.
According to the Richards, the days after Billy Clark’s death were some of their darkest days as a couple.
“I kind of locked myself in the house for six months,” Betty said. “I couldn’t get over it. I was a stay-at-home mom and I couldn’t take it.”
Even in the darkness of their grief, the Richards said they never doubted their affections for one another.
“We have had our fair share of tragedy,” Bill said. “However, those tragedies only made us stronger.”
The Richards say they find strength in their relationship through constant communication.
“We had a lot of friends who tried to talk us into moving, but we didn’t want to move,” Betty said. Today, the Richards continue to live just down the road from the site of the fatal crash. “This was our home and we had a lot of really good memories. Yes, there were some terrible memories, but we have had some really great memories, too. We did a lot of talking and communicating.”
One of the communication techniques used by the couple is the hundreds of thousands ‘I love you.’
Betty said the three-word phrase helps return the couple to the commitment that they made on March 1, 1953.
“We knew it was a lifetime commitment when we got married,” Betty said. “Sometimes, we sit here and cry because we are so happy that we made that commitment. We’re so lucky that we found each other and that we have had each other for so long.”