From the moment they met, fate united Barbara and Art Gutierrez to maintain a “live, love, laugh” motto that has sustained their relationship for over 50 years.
“The glue that’s held our relationship together were words of wisdom offered by my mom,” reveals Art. “She mandated, ‘Make Barbara your first priority and don’t allow the big or small things to bother either of you.’ I took her wisdom to heart because my parents divorced when I was a kid because my father’s first priority was always his mother. Three of my dad’s five sisters told me, ‘Don’t become a momma’s boy like your dad. Barbara is your first priority, not our mom.’” It’s this advice that’s helped this polar opposite couple to not only survive but thrive.
“I was raised in East Los Angeles and attended James A. Garfield High School. Jaime Escalante was my advanced calculus teacher,” Art says of the revered teacher that actor Edward James Olmos portrayed in the movie “Stand and Deliver.” Barbara chimes in: “I was raised in Holden, MA and attended Wachusett Regional High School. Our community was very small and all white. Never did I meet anyone who wasn’t Caucasian until I met Art.”
Raised 3,000 miles apart, Art and Barbara set their sights on the same goal. “We both went into the Air Force,” Art shares. “After high school graduation, I attended Humboldt State University, but I was bored in college, so I withdrew and enlisted in the Air Force. I went to Lackland AFB for basic training, then studied Inventory Management at Lowery AFB. Upon completion, I was assigned to Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho and arrived three days early to explore on my own. When I reported in, I was told Barbara was assigned to show me around the base.”
Barbara picks up the conversation: “I’ve always been extremely shy and introverted, and when ordered to give Art a tour because I also worked in inventory, I asked my best friend, Diane, to take my place. Diane gave Art a quick tour of the squadron, introduced him to our commander, then brought him into the inventory management office to meet me. It was love at first sight.”
Art agrees. “Hours after meeting Barbara, I asked her out. Our base was located several miles away from a very small town that didn’t have a movie theater, but I learned Nampa, Idaho had a movie theater in a newly-opened mall. En route, I got lost and discovered I didn’t have a map when I pulled over.” Barbara adds, “Art was my first real date, and he was worth the wait. Never had I been treated so respectfully.”
A year and a half later, Art proposed, and shares, “I wanted Barbara to meet my family. Uncle Sam gifted us with a 30-day vacation, so we drove the scenic route through Idaho and Oregon, and the Pacific Coast Highway in California. Barbara had never traveled before, and she was in awe of everything, including my mom.”
“Art’s mom instantly knew I was the one for Art,” says Barbara. “Never before had I eaten foreign food, and I took an instant liking to Mexican food. Art’s mom wanted to teach me how to make authentic Mexican food, but I was completely lost because she didn’t follow a recipe. Her directions were a ‘pinch’ of this or that. I tried taking notes, but they were completely useless. That mattered not, because the moment I met Art’s mom, I considered her my second mother.”
Driving back to their base was challenging because of gas rationing. Art explains, “Having Idaho plates on my car prevented California gas stations from selling gas to me. We were running on fumes when I pulled into a station and begged for gas. Fortunately, the owner respected the fact we were military, and said, ‘I will give you half a tank, but don’t you dare tell anyone.’ He then directed me to a gas station-owning buddy of his and promised, ‘He’ll top the tank off for you.’ We would’ve been stranded without the help of those two wonderful gas station owners.”
A few weeks after their California trip, Art told Barbara he’d take her to buy fabric so she could make her wedding dress. Neither Barbara nor Art wanted a church wedding. Their plan was to elope, but their friends insisted they have a small wedding. “Our friend, Elsa, offered her backyard for our wedding,” says Art.
In the early hours on the day of their wedding, with the moon having hours to hang in the darkened sky, everyone on base was called to attention by the shrill whistle for an ORI, Operational Readiness Inspection. It was a mandatory drill for everyone on base. “Our wedding was at 5 pm, and miraculously, I received special permission for our wedding to go on as planned,” Art says, “but our guest list dwindled from over 50 to 6. Judge Campbell married us, and friends brought food. Elsa purchased a small wedding cake. Days before the wedding, she made and froze her famous daiquiris, so the six of us had plenty to eat and drink.”
Five children were born to Art and Barbara. Sadly, they lost their third child, a son, when he was a month old due to six cysts lodged within his head and close to his lower brain stem. “Our son cried constantly from the day he was born,” Barbara shares. “Art was in Baltimore training for a new job when the decision was made to put our son on life support.”
“Those were the days when people, no matter their age, were placed on life support for an extended period of time,” Art interjects. “At that time, Barbara retained her Baptist heritage, and I retained my ties to the Catholic Church. We sought the advice from the priest and the Baptist minister. Both agreed our baby needed to be freed from life support. He died within seconds of being released from the machine. Barbara and I both know we will be reunited with him in heaven.”
When eldest daughter, Amy, turned 6, she begged her parents to return to Art’s clowning heritage. “My family is now five generations strong in professional clowning,” Art claims. “Amy didn’t have to petition very hard for us to become a clowning family. Barbara made all of our costumes and we attended the Clown College in Ohio. Barbara’s character was Petunia, a 13-year-old who was quite naughty. Amy was Rosie Ring Around, also 13 but very serious, responsible, and always trying to correct the naughty Petunia. I was Tutti Frutti, the adult in our trio, who tried in vain to keep Petunia and Rosie Ring Around in line.”
For decades, Barbara and Art have been invited to clown for countless activities and functions within our mountain communities and beyond. Art’s clowning helped him hide the heartache that he, his siblings and mother had endured from excessive abuse by his father.
“My father’s abuse came to a head when I wanted to become a Boy Scout when I was 8 years old,” Art discloses. “He refused to sign my application to join the Scouts. My mother signed it and swore me to secrecy. His abuse escalated to the point my mom secretly found a house to rent. For weeks she walked things over to the rental. My father seemed not to know. When we finally moved in, the first thing she said to me was ‘Art, you can now tell the world that you’re a Boy Scout.’”
To date, Art has given the Boy Scouts 62 years of service. He earned his Eagle rank in 1971 prior to turning 18 and continues to serve a multitude of positions for the Scouts, including that of chaplain for Troop 737 and chartered organization representative for Pack 119 and Troop 888. He adds, “I’m also an assistant scoutmaster for multiple Troops, and assistant district commissioner in the Alpine District. I proudly received the Silver Beaver Award for my many years of volunteer work. I’ve worked with a multitude of kids over the years, but I’m the one who’s benefitted the most.”
Art is also a longstanding member of Evergreen Kiwanis and currently serves as chaplain for Evergreen’s American Legion Post 2001. “I’m devoted to ensure our local veterans have what they need as they are aging.
Critical health challenges have confronted both Barbara and Art, but their resilience remains as strong as their love. Art was diagnosed with COPD, asthma, and pulmonary hypertension in 2017. Barbara was diagnosed with breast, colon and liver cancer and has endured a litany of treatments. Art contends, “You can’t take illness too seriously. Laughter is medicine. Barbara and I continue to find joy in laughing our way through life, which helps keep our romance alive. We still have much to look forward to, which we intend to do together for years to come.”