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home : news : news Saturday, May 28, 2016

2/13/2013 Email this articlePrint this article 
Sticking together. Roger and Mary Oltman of Grand Mound don’t claim to know the secret to a successful marriage, but say being able to laugh has helped them stay married almost 41 years. Mary was diagnosed with primary progressive Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 1989 and Roger is her full-time caregiver. The couple does not let her disease keep them from living as enjoyable a life as possible. Roger says he admires his wife for the fortitude she has shown living every day with MS. “I don’t think I could do it,” he relates. Photo by Kate Howes
Humor helps Oltmans brave life's challenges together

By Kate Howes
Staff writer

It is said love conquers all.

Roger and Mary Oltman believe having one heck of a sense of humor about life's misfortunes doesn't hurt either.

The Grand Mound couple's life together began in college.

Mary was a student at AIB College of Business in Des Moines - the same school from which Roger already had graduated.

The two of them were playing a game of co-ed touch football on campus near the girls' dorms.

"There was a big green space where a group of us would play ball and anyone who wanted to join in was more than welcome," Roger relates.

Mary had watched them play a few times and needless to say, was not too impressed.

"They were very crude," she says.

One day, however, Mary and some of her friends decided to get in the game.

"He tackled me," she quips.

"I did no such thing," Roger argues shaking his head. "There is a reason it's called 'touch' football."

Regardless of the circumstances, Mary left a lasting impression on Roger whereas she found him - well, rather forgettable.

"He called one of my roommates and asked about me," Mary relates. "I didn't remember him."

Yet, when Roger asked her out, Mary said yes and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Oltmans' history, however, contains more than its share of tragic, life-altering events.

Their ability to survive and stay together is based on one pretty simple principle.

"You've gotta just keep on keepin' on and do the best you can," Roger says.

While it may be easier said than done, the Oltmans are a true testament to how taking commitment seriously and just being real with one another can help a relationship last.

Rolling with the punches

It was in 1989 when Mary was diagnosed with primary progressive Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a condition that steadily worsens after it first develops.

"It's a slow decline," Roger explains. "There is no treatment for it and it doesn't go into remission. There's nothing that can be done for it."

While the news came as a shock, Mary knew she had no other option than simply to accept it.

"I thought, I'll just have to keep on going," she shares.

It wasn't until about 10 years later that it began affecting Mary's ability to live a normal life.

Walking and maintaining her balance became extremely difficult and in 2000, she had to quit driving.

"I'd followed her home from DeWitt to Grand Mound one night and saw she was having trouble staying on her side of the road," Roger says.

"That's been one of the hardest things for me," Mary relates. "Not being able to just drive myself somewhere and having to depend on somebody else to do it. It's hard to ask for help."

Soon, the duties in the Oltman household shifted. As Mary's MS began taking its toll on her body, Roger began doing all the cooking, laundry and other chores. The couple hired people to come in and clean the house.

Once a vital, independent woman who loved gardening, being outdoors and soaking up the sun, Mary had to learn to depend on Roger almost entirely.

Roger, in turn, had to become his wife's caregiver and watch the woman he loved adjust to living with a merciless disease.

"I was so grateful he was doing all those things," Mary relates.

"Frustration did begin to set in," Roger adds. "She couldn't do all the things she once loved to do. I empathized with her; it was hard seeing how it was taking a toll on her mentally."

Then in 2010, Roger began having trouble with his vision. It became so bad he had to give up his job of 36 years.

In the meantime, Mary's condition continued to worsen. Yet, after some discussion, the couple agreed it would be less of a financial drain on them for Roger simply to stay home with Mary as opposed to hiring someone to take care of her.

"It ended up working out for the best," Roger says of having to quit his job. "We just feel fortunate that we're able to afford to do it. We've seen other couples who are practically destitute having to live with MS."

In the spring of 2010, the Oltmans faced their greatest, most unimaginable heartbreak yet - the sudden death of their son, Jake.

"That definitely gave us a different perspective on life," Mary shares.

"It was amazing to me to see how many other people have lost children," Roger adds. "They understood what we were going through. You simply have to learn to live with it and move on."

When in doubt, laugh

The Oltmans have not allowed everything that life and MS have taken from them to stop them from living.

They eat out two or three nights a week and love to travel. They even intend to celebrate their upcoming 41st wedding anniversary with an Alaskan cruise.

One thing they have learned, Roger says, is not to fret about the small stuff and if you take life too seriously, you'll be old well before your time.

It's not always as easy as it may seem, the Oltmans say, and like any other couple they need their time away from one another.

"I go hunting and fishing with a group of friends once a year," Roger notes. "Those breaks help me. She needs a break from me, too, just as much."

While statistics show over 80 percent of men leave after their wives have been diagnosed with or begin suffering the affects of MS, Roger takes the vows he made to Mary very seriously.

"She's my wife," he shares. "I love her. There's a commitment we made to each other come hell or high water."

The couple also keeps things real and maintains as much of a sense of humor about things as possible.

"One day we were in a store looking at new tile and carpet," Mary recalls. "After awhile the sales lady came up to us and said, 'You two seem to laugh so much. That's so nice.' I said, 'What else can we do?' I'm stuck in this wheelchair, we lost our son . . . we could sit and cry and mope but what good would that do us?"

"We just take things one day at a time," Roger says. "We only think far enough ahead to plan our next trip. She's still the same person in a lot of ways - she's still ornery, still a ham. It's all about attitude. We banter back and forth a lot. MS takes a lot of things away from you, but you can't let it take everything. You've got to keep your sense of humor."

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