Their first impressions of each other were decisive, if somewhat opposite. … She thought he was full of himself. He knew she was the girl he was going to marry.
Regardless of what they believe that day, they’re still together. Keith and Melba Zinn were married 60 years on June 1, 2012. During that time, they have worked their own careers, raised three children (Byron, 59; Terri, 57; Todd, 55), weathered Mother Nature and watched Andover grow from a sleepy little rural community to what it is now.
How they met
Melba Van Ausdall was a senior at Newton High School when they first met. One day Keith Zinn walked into the Rexall Drug Store where she worked weekends as a soda jerk.
“This guy came in and you could just tell he thought he was the living end,” Melba recalled. “He was wearing a red corduroy hat that he kind of pushed back.”
Both Melba and her best girlfriend worked behind the fountain. They both felt that Keith thought he was “so cute and everything” that if he ever asked either of them to go out, they would turn him down because “he was so conceited.”
After coming in several times to talk with the girls, Keith asked Melba to go out and she refused, “in a nice way,” she said. Undeterred, Keith had a backup plan.
“He had a thought about a way to do it, so he asked my girlfriend to go out,” she said. “He thought that would make me jealous. She went out with him.”
Melba said Keith and her girlfriend went out for a while, but they started dating prior to her graduation from high school. After graduation, they became engaged and were married about a year later.
Keith has a little different spin on how they met. While he was serving in World War II, Melba and her family moved to Newton, his hometown. After Keith returned from the war, a friend told him about a very pretty girl he had not met.
“I went into the drug store, saw this girl behind the fountain and thought ‘Wow.’ I told my friend, ‘You know what, that’s the girl I’m going to marry.’ He kind of laughed,” Keith said.
After Melba graduated from high school, she and her girlfriend attended business college in Wichita. It was fortuitous that Keith was working for Boeing at the time.
Keith and Melba went back to Newton and asked her parents about getting married. They didn’t have to do that because they were both of age – he was 20 and she was 18. Although her parents approved, Keith could see her mother was concerned.
“It took me a few years to win her (Melba’s mother) over to where she thought that Melba did the right thing,” he said.
Page 2 of 4 - Except Keith, who was 22, and Melba, age 19, didn’t know themselves if they were doing the right thing. They just knew what they wanted.
“That’s the way things got started,” Keith said. “I asked her to marry me in May of 1951, and we were married in June of 1951.”
“1952,” Melba corrected with a laugh, to which Keith agreed, “June of 1952.”
Keith was still working at Boeing when they married. Melba went to work in the office of Magellan’s, a Wichita dime store along the lines of Woolworth’s and Kresge’s that has long since disappeared.
After a short stint in Freemont, Neb., Keith and Melba moved to Newton. They were living there when Sand Creek flooded in 1960.
Melba was home with three children between 2 and 6 years old. She called her mother, who was living in Wichita, and asked what to so. Her mother said to get some bread and peanut butter and take the kids to the second floor. The four of them were upstairs with their bread and peanut butter when Keith arrived home in a motorboat.
The Zinns lost nearly everything. Wedding memories, pictures, memorabilia from their high school days had been stored in their now-flooded garage. Although determined to bounce back, the flood won. They moved to the south part of Wichita later that year.
When Boeing started an austerity program four years later, Keith realized he was going to have to do something else to make a living. He decided upon building houses, having learned the trade from his grandfather.
Welcome to Andover
Keith and Melba came to Lakeview Heights to see a lot owned by her aunt and uncle, but bought another lot instead. Except for certain things like concrete work, Keith built a house for them in 1964. It was the first house he had ever built, and it’s still there, near Harry and Andover Road.
“There weren’t a lot of other houses in area,” Melba said. “It was like living in the country at that time.”
Keith and Lester Landis, who owned a shoe store in Wichita, started a business called Zinnlan to build homes. Three years later Keith bought out Landis and purchased most of the remaining lots in Lakeview Heights.
Shortly after that, building loans became hard to find. Keith put his capital in CDs and returned to the aircraft industry at Beech. A year later, the building industry picked back up, and he was spending more time building than he was at Beech. After the company gave him an ultimatum, Keith left to build houses again.
He built houses in Andover, Augusta, east Wichita and Crestview for 22 years. After retiring from that in 1987, Keith opened the Redwood Shop and built redwood furniture that was shown across the country. The business became too much for him, so he sold it in 1992 to a company in North Carolina.
Page 3 of 4 - Working woman
Although she hadn’t worked outside the home for many years, Melba kept busy raising their children. She didn’t return to the working world until their youngest, 14-year-old Todd, was in junior high school. The first – and only – place she applied was at the then-new Kmart store on East Kellogg in Wichita, where she got a job working in the office.
That was about 1970. After Kmart, she worked for Land Manufacturing in Andover. When that closed, Melba went to work for International Cold Storage, which is still in business in Andover.
Hitting the road
One of the highlights of their life together came in 1994 after they had retired. They both enjoyed traveling but had never done any camping. After buying a new fifth-wheel recreational vehicle and pickup truck, they hit the road, full timing for nearly four years. They went to every state in the country, along with parts of Canada and Mexico.
“It was the most fun, interesting time to me of our lives,” Melba said. “I wrote a diary of every day of what we did and have over 1,000 pages. I have five albums of pictures of everything we did.”
As they have grown older, they seem to cherish that time even more.
“We were getting to the age where we had friends that had plans they wanted to do when they retired,” Melba said. “One or the other started getting health problems, and they weren’t able to do these things. We thought, ‘We were going to go as soon as we retired,’ and that’s what we did.”
They bought their current home on Manor Road in 1991. They were attending a performance at the Crown Uptown Theater in Wichita when the tornado struck. Their initial concern was whether they had a place to live. Fortunately, their house sustained a little roof damage but nothing serious.
While traveling in their RV, they leased this house with the intent of building a new one when they returned. Instead, they spent a great deal of time and money remodeling the house, both inside and out, while living in their fifth wheel in the driveway
“We decided we’d move back in if we could do the work and make it the way that we wanted it and that’s what we did,” Melba said.
Living in Andover
After 48 years, Melba has no complaints.
“That was a good move that we made to move out here, build a house and start living out here when we did,” she said. “I don’t regret a bit of it. I’m just happy to live here.”
Keith echoed her sentiments with some of his own. A member of the City Council for 5 1/2 years, he especially likes the progress, such as the Marketplace at Dillons and the YMCA.
Page 4 of 4 - “Those are advancements as far as Andover is concerned,” he said. “I love to see that, I just really do like that.”
How did they do it
The Zinns have been blessed with three children, four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. After 60 years, the unspoken question is “What is their secret to a lasting marriage?”
Melba says they love each other, obviously, like to have fun together and have a lot in common. More important, it’s about commitment, as witnessed by her parents’ 74-year marriage.
“When you get married, it’s a lifetime commitment. You have your ups and downs, as any couple does,” she said. “We just have a commitment to one another that neither one of us are ever going to break. Especially not now, after all these years.”
Keith quickly replied “She’s beautiful,” to which Melba chuckled and blushed.
“She’s taken care of me ever since day one. She’s always been there when I needed her,” he added. “I’ve always told her if I ever get rid of you, I’ll never get another one.
“If I ever got another one, I couldn’t get one like her. That’s just the way I feel.”