Married to a Marine: Oak Harbor couple celebrates 70 years

Like many love stories before and after them, Dorothy and Eugene Gilbert’s seven-decade romance started in a bar.


Special to the News-Times

Like many love stories before and after them, Dorothy and Eugene Gilbert’s seven-decade romance started in a bar.

Eugene “Dud” Gilbert, a staff sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps at the time, was out with his commanding officer for a “night on the town.” The CO’s wife was out of town and he wanted to see the local nightlife.

“We happened to wind up at The Kennel Cafe, and we were sitting at the bar,” Dud recalled. Longtime Oak Harbor residents may be familiar with The Kennel Cafe which was open for many years on Southeast Pioneer Way. John Vanderzicht owned the restaurant and dubbed it “The Kennel,” according to the Oak Harbor Main Street Association, because its male diners would be “in the dog house” if their wives found out they spent a lot of time there – it had a bar attached.

It was a popular place in a Navy town. The two were just hanging out when Dud spotted a woman sitting at a table nearby.

“And this girl was sitting there – I didn’t even know who she was.” Dud ditched his CO for a moment when the guy Dorothy had been talking to got up for a quick trip to the restroom.

“And that was his mistake,” Dud laughed. .

Dorothy “Dottie” Olson grew up in Mariner’s Cove. She began working as a nanny for Navy families when she was a teen and later as a secretary on base. She said she was out with a group of friends that night.

When asked why he had the audacity to steal another man’s date, Dud was pretty matter-of-fact. “She was a pretty good-looking dame sitting right there,” he said

The two got to talking. He asked her if she wanted to go out on “a real date.” She was interested, and the pair went out dancing the following Saturday night. “We spent the night on the dance floor,” Dud said.

He asked if she was free again the following weekend, and the rest is history. The two married five weeks later on November 8, 1952. She was 20 and he was 22; now 90 and 92, respectively, they celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary this month.

“He was always a gentleman, and I still love that about him,” she said.

The newlyweds only stayed in Dottie’s hometown of Oak Harbor for about a month before they had to move so Dud could go to Officer Training School. Dud was involved in multiple wars during his military career and retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1972.

He served in the Korean War, transporting troops across the Pacific Ocean on ships. He also served in a little-known war in Laos between the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He flew helicopters during the Vietnam War and was awarded both the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Bronze Star for his service in combat.

He was awarded 39 service medals in total throughout his military career.

The couple moved back to Oak Harbor in 1973. There they built the house they still live in on Northwest Second Avenue and raised five children. They owned and operated the successful Bridgeway Cafe for almost 20 years where Dud cooked every plate served and Dottie was known for her pies.

Looking back on the last 70 years, Dud said it was clear the military helped bring them together.

“Yes, the primary circumstance was the military. She was out with a sailor, there I was, a Marine, plus I was out with my CO in a military town,” he said.

His advice to other young couples about military life was to make sure both people “know what they signed up for.” Dud estimated he was away from home for about 45 months while he was in the service. “It was hard on my wife to be alone with the children for so long.”

Dottie agreed. “You need to make sure you know what you’re getting into,” she said. “You can talk to someone and learn that way, but some things you just have to learn on your own.”

Although military life can be difficult, she added, it can offer a lot of interesting opportunities. Both have traveled; she’s visited 40 of the 50 states, and Dud has been to multiple countries across Southeast Asia.

“You learn a lot that way. I’ve never forgotten things that I saw years ago – the things we did, the people we met,” she said.

They both say that the other is the same person they married after all these years.

“We’ve had some ups and downs but they were taken care of in short order,” Dud said. “I’d say she’s just the same girl now – just a little older.”