John and Doris McKenzie

John and Doris McKenzie (Chuck Berman, Chicago Tribune)

Doris McKenzie remembers when she first saw the young man who would later become her husband.

It was a case of bemusement at first sight.

It was September 1956 and John McKenzie was fresh out of the Army. While he was in the service, his parents had moved from tiny Mendota, Ill., to even dinkier Tampico, Ill. So upon his separation from the military, he left Fort Sheridan and paid his first visit to Tampico.

"My grandfather was delegated to show me the town," John says.

There really wasn't much to show, Doris admits. The business district was a block long; fortunately for both of them, one of the businesses was her beauty shop. And she happened to look out the window as John got out of his grandfather's car.

"He looked up the street one way," she says. "Then he looked the other way. You could read the expression on his face: 'What kind of a town is this?'"

At his grandfather's suggestion, John went into the shop. "(He said), 'I want you to meet this nice lady.'"

One thing led to another, and soon they started seeing each other.

"I think for our first date we probably went bowling," says John, 77, sitting in the McKenzies' North Aurora home. "Or to a movie. One of the two. We just hit it off."

"Yeah, no arguments," adds Doris, 84, from the comfort of her nearby recliner.

Their age difference — he was 20, she was 27 — was never a factor.

"Today she'd be called a cougar," John says. "Back then it was called robbing the cradle."

Less than a year later, the Catholic soon-to-be-college-student and the Methodist beautician married in Tampico.

"Her mother had said, 'What time is the wedding?'" John recalls. "Doris told her 11 o'clock, and to sort of paraphrase, she said, 'Well, we don't know much about them Catholics, so we probably won't be there.' But who was in the front row on the bride's side of the church? Her mother and father. I couldn't have had better in-laws."

The McKenzies' marriage — their 56th anniversary is Aug. 24 — produced four sons and a daughter (they also have seven grandchildren). John has spent 53 years teaching, most recently as a substitute in District 129 in Aurora. He also has a part-time gig working security with the Cubs. Doris had her beauty shop and later went into a 25-year career in retail with Kresge's and Kmart.

"The day I turned 62 I retired," she says. "I survived three cancer surgeries and I decided it was time to quit work and enjoy life a little."

Between the beauty shop and the Kresge and Kmart jobs there were the kids.

"I had too many kids to take care of — five in six years," she says, explaining why she left the beauty business.

(John's take on the youngsters: "We discovered a problem with the water. We put in a water softener and solved all the pregnancy problems.")

After their wedding, they moved to Normal, where he would get his bachelor's (1960) and master's (1965) degrees in education from Illinois State University. Then there were moves to the small Illinois towns of Coleta and La Moille for teaching jobs before District 129 called in 1962. John became a fixture in the district as a math teacher. They both were active in the PTA and Boy Scouts (their four sons, like John before them, were Eagle Scouts, and the five of them have a combined 210 years in scouting).