Best Friends Forever
Barb Fuchs and Merrily Burns have been best of friends for over 65 years. The pair say they are two very different people, but have always felt a connection between them which they cannot deny.
The two both grew up with brothers, and fondly call each other ‘sis.’ How these two met and have kept close for so many years is a combination of communication, dedication, and naturally, a whole lot of love.
The two met when Merrily’s family moved to Wells in December of 1954. Her parents rented an apartment above the Thrifty White Pharmacy, and moved in during the school’s Christmas break.
“I didn’t know anybody,” says Merrily. “But I was used to traveling from town to town with my parents due to my dad’s job. My parents became members of the Methodist Couples Club and one night they said I was going with them because I had to entertain a local girl. I said, ‘why do I have to do that?,'” laughs Merrily.
“I wasn’t a fan of the idea either,” giggles Barb. “But my mother says it was one of the biggest mistakes she ever made, having us meet. Thick as thieves, she would say.”
The laughter shared between Merrily and Barb has lasted over many decades between shared shenanigans as young girls, to enjoying moments and milestones as adults.
When the two girls were young, a strawberry farm existed outside of Wells, where a small job was offered to anyone willing to do the work.
“I would bike out to Barb’s farm, and we would both bike to the strawberry farm where you could pick strawberries for five cents a pint,” says Merrily. “You pick the strawberries, and you keep the cash. We would make probably 15 to 20 cents each time we went.”
The two both appreciated making money, and once their pastor, Reverend Rogers, offered each patron of their church one dollar to invest and duplicate for a building fund.
“I tell ya, we had a really good money maker, I’m just not sure how impressed Rev. Rogers was with how we got it,” laughs Merrily.
She explained that she and Barb would ride around on their bikes out in the country and one day, noticed there was a numerous number of beer bottles in the ditch. The two girls went and gathered the bottles, cleaned them, and invested their one dollar in spray paint and decals. The girls then filled the painted bottles with ironing starch, put a shaker top on the bottle, and sold the bottles to families who needed starch for ironing.
“We sold the bottles for probably 50 cents,?I’d say. We definitely made our money grow, which is what Rev. Rogers wanted,” laughs Barb. “Only thing is, I’m not sure he was too impressed with the beer bottles. But he shared our money maker with the whole congregation.”
In Merrily’s sophomore year, she began attending school in St. Peter. Merrily informed her principal that she would need to leave school early every Friday in order to catch the bus to Wells to go visit Barb.
When Merrily arrived at Wells, Barb’s mother noticed her white blouses weren’t “as white as they should be.”
“She would have me pack my little suitcase full of dirty clothes and Barb and I would wash my clothes before we could do any fun stuff,” Merrily remembers. “We would use the ringer washer, boil the hot water, and scrub it all clean.”
Later on, when Barb’s mother Bernadine was much older and living at the Shepherd’s Inn in Wells, she told Merrily and Barb that she never understood why the family’s chickens never laid eggs when the girls were together.
“It’s because we hated those chickens,” laughs Barb. “I was terrified of them and Merrily would always get pecked trying to get their eggs, so we were rough with them and I guess they learned not to mess with us.”
“We never told Bernadine why the chickens would stop laying eggs,” Merrily laughingly shares.
During her junior year of high school, Merrily’s family moved to Michigan where she finished high school. Barb is one year older than Merrily and when Merrily moved, Barb graduated from Wells High School and married the love of her life, Bud. Merrily came all the way back from Michigan to be in Barb and Bud’s wedding.
Barb’s mother even fitted Barb’s old prom dress for Merrily to wear as a bridesmaid dress.
As the two friends grew up, their paths differed, but never separated. Barb stayed in Wells, raising a family of four daughters with her husband, while Merrily went to airline school and became a pivotal member of Pan America’s team. She started out as a reservation agent, then a ticket counter, handled high-end companies and was a member of heliport management. Merrily traveled the world with her job, and Barb was content seeing the world through Merrily’s photos and letters she would send to Wells.
“Communication is the greatest key to any relationship,” says Barb. “We always kept in touch through phone calls and letters and whenever we had the time, visits.”
As the duo grew older, their needs changed, including having to take care of their aging parents. For a time, Merrily settled in Honolulu, Hawaii and depended heavily on Barb who took care of Merrily’s mother while she was facing her later years. And the two girls helped take care of each other’s mothers once Merrily came back to the area. Merrily and Barb took care of Doris, Merrily’s mother, and Bernadine, Barb’s mother, together until they passed. Doris was 93, and Bernadine was 96.
Once Merrily moved back to the area, she returned not only to town, but moved into Barb’s house, under Bud’s suggestion that she move into the upstairs portion of the house.
“I started living there only in the summers and traveled during most of the year, but I’ve lived here full time for about seven or eight years now,” says Merrily.
And just as Barb took care of Merrily’s family, Merrily returned the favor as Barb’s husband Bud battled cancer.
“While I worked at the store I owned, Gifts Galore, Merrily would watch over Bud,” says Barb.
“I remember one of the stronger times he had at the end, we just went out for a drive and drove everywhere. We took back roads, and went to Fairmont, and just really took our time with the day,” says Merrily.
“It scared the crap out of my kids when Bud didn’t answer his phone that day,” says Barb. “But I knew he was in good hands.”
Bud passed away five years ago, and now it is just the two best friends living together.
They spend every morning together reading the local news, doing crossword puzzles and sipping coffee. They are both still quite involved in their community, just recently becoming members of the Our Town USA board of directors. Barb says she has been hoping for a committee like this since the 1980s and is excited to see something finally moving forward.
The secret to their friendship?
“We don’t have to have the same path,” says Merrily. “We share each other’s successes and accomplishments regardless of whether they are like our own goals or not.”
The two have so many more stories to share, and if you want to hear more of them, you will just have to ask them yourselves.
Merrily and Barb prove that you don’t need to have a blood relation to be family. You just need sisterhood.