Farming and preaching – Couple celebrate 62 years of love

by Lucie Roy
Morinville News Correspondent

Married for 62 years, Richard and Betty Upham have many stories to tell of their adventures living in England to Canada.

On 13 November Betty celebrated her 90th birthday, and a week later on 19 November Richard celebrated his 86th Birthday. A family celebration was held 13 November at the Baptist Church with their family in attendance for her birthday celebration. “What a wonderful day,” said Richard. They have four children: two girls, Sue and Kathryn, and two boys, Stephen and Paul. They also have ten grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, and all the children were there except Sue and a child from Ontario who was unable to attend.

Speaking at the event, Upham spoke of how they met and said how they met all began in 1914.

His Dad, William, was a Marine in the First World War and him and his best friend, Clifford, from Yorkshire, both served and made it through to the end. His Dad was injured during training, and so he was invalided out of the army before having to storm the beachhead. Clifford went through it, and they were so close friends that they kept in touch afterward and visited one another despite the 350 miles distance between them. Richard said, “I suppose friendships forged in the Royal Marines are pretty strong.”

In 1948 Clifford’s daughter was at University studying to be a teacher and living in dorms where she became best friend with Betty Spink. Spink was in the teacher training college, part of the Leeds University. The two of them came down to the farm in Devon for six weeks, and Richard fell in love with Betty. They courted for five years before marrying on May 8, 1954. Betty said you did not rush things back then.

Betty came from Yorkshire, and with the nearly 350-mile distance between them, she could only see Richard on holidays. She had been teaching mainly 4- to 8-year-old students and enjoyed teaching country students, but she decided to get a job in Devon to get to know Richard better. She taught there for a while till they married when she felt she had enough to do at home and she was also an organist for various churches. A duty she performed for twenty-seven years throughout their ventures.

Richard was born in South Molton, a small town on the River Mole in Devon, England, to William and Elizabeth Ann Upham and has one brother Hedley. Richard did not serve in WWII as he was too young. He was a teenager and knew what was going on and was fully expecting to be called but it ended in time that he was spared that. Also, they were farmers and that meant he did not have to do National Service.

He was a member of the Methodist Church and took a correspondence course to be a minister and is a certificated Methodist preacher. Richard said he was preaching while in training and preached in 150 different Methodist churches across Western England. The church worked in circuits, and they were satellite churches without ministers, and the preachers would be given an area route. Upham said they were trained to preach in all the churches even the big city churches and they took their turns there. Where Betty came from there were thirty-three churches in that circuit, where he came from there was twenty-six. And so he preached once, twice maybe three times on a Sunday. He was never paid an honorarium and never accepted gas money; it was pure voluntary. And he ministered like that for twenty-one years before they came to Canada.

Of his nearly twenty years of ministering in the United Church, Upham said. “I had such a blessed time.” Upham went on to say that people get tired of being told you can’t believe this or can’t believe that and suddenly there comes a preacher that says you can believe that because that is the truth, the Bible is God’s authority and the truth. “It is historical, and I am a historian and love history, and I can quote you passages from the Bible and for me to be able to preach the Gospel is the most trilling thing imaginable,” he said.

When they came to Canada in 1972, they did so with only the two youngest ones, Kathryn and Paul. Not wanting to disrupt their schooling, with Stephen in Grade 10 and Sue in Grade 12 and she wanted to be a speech pathologist it would be easier for the two to stay in England.
With their new GM left hand drive car shipped from Liverpool, their assets were frozen in Britain and only allowed $5000 pounds in dollars they emigrated in March and flew to Halifax. They traveled to Vancouver. Driving back towards Alberta they ended up at the Calgary Motel Village, as he went through the phone directory he came across the town name of Duchess. He remembered a friend from England had immigrated to Canada five years earlier. They stayed there while looking for a job and within a week he was working at a local processing plant in the process of construction. When he made Assistant Manager of Alberta Alfalfa Products, they moved to Brooks. After three or four years there his oldest son wanted to farm, and in 1976 they purchased a farm in the St Paul area, at Ashmont.

At that time Mallaig wanted to build an Alfalfa plant, and Upham was tasked to work with an engineer to design the plant and with the construction. His dream of farming full time was put on hold for quite a while. When the plant was successful, he went to doing what he enjoyed most- farming and preaching. He farmed and worked part time for the United Church ministry for Two Hills from 1976 to 1986.

He was then transferred to the St Paul Presbytery, a large area stretching from Lac la Biche to Lloydminster. Upham said they had a wonderful ministry in St Paul together as their farm was in Ashmont and Betty was an organist at the Ashmont church. He did the first service in St Paul and the second service in Ashmont. “So we were in harness together you might say, a pastor and pastor’s wife,” said Richard.

His heart attacks began in 1985 before he left Two Hills; he had two in five weeks. He was also serving on the Northern Alberta Development Council and after three years made Vice Chair, and that is when he was maybe doing too much, farming, ministry and serving on the NADC. The first heart attack took place at his retirement dinner from the NADC.

He has had brain surgery and a heart condition in Ashmont and retired Easter Sunday in 1993 after the Easter Sunday service by his doctor’s recommendation.

They lived in St Paul County and town for at least six years before they moved to Morinville in 2012.

Upham has written and published a family book titled, “The Search for the Pearl of Great Price- “Opening the Oyster.” He said it is the reflections of an octogenarian over two countries and two continents.

They are both active with the churches to this day and enjoying retirement.

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