Home / Features / Community / One of Shreveport’s Greatest Love Stories
Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023

One of Shreveport’s Greatest Love Stories


An Epilogue

In April of 2023 – two months before Walter “Dude” Middlebrooks passed away – he and his wife, Genny, celebrated their final wedding anniversary.

But this wasn’t just any run-of-the-mill wedding anniversary. Dude and Genny Middlebrooks were married for an astonishing 81 years.

Their remarkable eight-decade story began like most teenage love stories: It was simple. Dude bagged groceries at a small grocery store in Cedar Grove, and more than once, he noticed Genny sitting in her family’s car reading a book while she waited for her mom. They attended Byrd High School together and were in the same study hall.

“I knew who he was because he had to sharpen his pencil every few minutes,” Genny said. “And the teacher would call him and tell him ‘OK, Walter, sharpen your pencil.’ So, I knew who he was, and that’s all I knew.”

They graduated together from Byrd High School, Class of 1941. Later, on their first date, they decided to go to a drive-in movie on Greenwood Road. On the way there, they stopped for burgers, only for Dude to realize after eating that he had forgotten his wallet. He left his watch as collateral and returned the next day to pay for their meal – which cost 50 cents. (Later, to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, they went to a burger joint.)

Shreveport was different in the early years of Dude and Genny’s relationship. Photos from their teen years are a glimpse into a different era. One of Genny’s earliest jobs was at a five-and-dime store in downtown Shreveport called Silver’s. She would take the Line Avenue trolley to and from work. The trolley’s last stop on the way home was in Cedar Grove at the intersection of 70th Street and Line Avenue. Genny walked from there one mile to her childhood home on Linwood Avenue. If it was raining, she called her mother from a nearby drugstore to come pick her up. At that time, her family’s house was the last one on Linwood.

Dude and his family lived on 69th Street, one block off Cedar Grove’s main street, not far from Genny’s trolley stop. She also recalled riding passenger trains. One such train trip was from Shreveport to Baton Rouge because she had won first place in a 4-H contest for a dress she had sewn. Her love for sewing continued throughout her life.

“I used to make all my clothes,” she said. “And I used to design clothes. Not for a living, but if I had it to do over, I could.”

Dude and Genny were married in 1942, waiting until Genny turned 18 to tie the knot. The wedding took place in the preacher’s house, and to Genny’s knowledge, there are no pictures of their wedding day.

Their relationship started while the United States was embroiled in World War II. Dude was initially passed over for military service because he had a hernia.

Instead, Genny and Dude moved into a small, rented room in Cedar Grove. They had their own kitchen but shared a bathroom with other tenants.

“Back in those days, you remember the ice man?” she said. “He just came in the back door right through our bedroom to put ice in the refrigerator – to put ice in the ice box.”

In the days before TV, Dude and Genny’s entertainment came mostly in the form of going to see movies and listening to the radio.

“Somebody gave us a radio as a wedding gift, and we’d go to bed and listen to the radio.”

Hardship surrounded their early years together. One year into their marriage, while they were still teenagers, Dude was finally drafted into the military and stationed in Virginia. Genny dutifully rode a train to Virginia to be with him. Because she couldn’t live on base, she rented a room nearby and found a job in a garment factory. Her rented room was so sparse it didn’t even have a kitchen.

She and Dude only spent weekends together. During the week, she went to work early in the morning. Because restaurants weren’t open that early, Genny didn’t eat much of the time.

“After I’d been there a few days, one of my co-workers noticed I wasn’t eating,” she said. “So, she started bringing me lunch – which was nice.”

Genny also did not have a washer and dryer in her small room.

“Let me tell you – the Seventh Day Adventists Church met on Saturday right next door to my room, and on Saturday I had to hang my you-know-whats in the window to dry them. I washed them in the lavatory and hung them in the window, and there was the church meeting.”

Noting the lack of laundromats at that time, Genny simply said, “That was the olden days.”

Dude was eventually sent to the Philippines, where he worked in a post office for the duration of the war. When Dude returned safely, Genny and Dude got on with the business of happily ever after in Shreveport. They became parents, raising two sons – David and Sam. Dude became a partner in a food-service company called Frosted Foods Incorporated, which was later bought by Sysco.

Dude and Genny shared interests but also had their own hobbies. Dude enjoyed wood carving, while Genny was an avid seamstress. However, most of their time was spent together. They would golf and fish and relax on their houseboat. At one point, they even joined a square dance club.

“We just got along well and enjoyed the same things. We square danced. We bowled. You name it, and we’d done it.”

One of their square dances was broadcast on TV from the long-gone Washington-Youree Hotel in downtown Shreveport. Dude often wore yellow boots when square dancing, Genny recalled.

“Dude was not a good dancer,” Genny said, “But he loved music, and he went around the house singing all the time. He was not a good dancer, but he was willing to try.”

During their long marriage, they traveled as well – among their destinations were Paris, London, Acapulco, Hawaii and the Grand Canyon. They even took a fishing trip to the isolated town of Flin Flon, Canada, where Genny spent the whole trip worried about grizzly bears.

Genny and Dude were also longtime Methodists and gave freely of their time to the church and to the Louisiana Methodist Children’s Home in Ruston. Dude was such a giving soul. He once famously gave the shoes off his feet to someone in need.

Dude and Genny also saw a slew of technological advances during their married life, too many to remember. But Genny did recall buying their first television and an odd memory that accompanied it.

“I remember a friend, and I bought TV pants,” she said, laughing. “We bought some special pants to wear when we watched TV. I don’t know what was special about them.”

Their long marriage is simultaneously simple and complex. The simple part is how they saw life: Genny embodies an easy-going mentality that in and of itself might have contributed to their longevity. She couldn’t recall, in 81 years of marriage, having a single fight. Once or twice she thought Dude stayed out too late playing golf, but that didn’t constitute a fight in her eyes.

For Dude’s part, he was happy and loved.

“He was just a good ol’ guy, and everybody loved him,” Genny said.

The complex part of an eight-decade marriage is its rarity and the vast social, political and historical terrain it traverses. Dude passed away on June 9, 2023, at the age of 99 years and three months. (Genny will celebrate her 100th birthday in April of 2024.) Their marriage was older than microwaves, Tupperware, Frisbees, credit cards, television and car seats. They were married before the advent of space travel and were together through 15 U.S. presidencies – starting with Franklin Roosevelt. (As a mind-boggling side note, both Genny and Dude were born during the Calvin Coolidge administration.)

Genny and Dude’s love story is a rarity in the United States, with only a handful of current marriages nationwide lasting more than 80 years. The Guinness Book of World Records officially recognizes the oldest marriage on record as that of Herbert and Zelmyra Fisher of North Carolina, who had been married a whopping 86 years, 290 days, when Mr. Fisher passed away. That recordshattering marriage was a mere five years longer than Genny and Dude Middlebrooks of Shreveport, La.

Genny’s only thoughts regarding people marrying today: “If you’re lucky, it’ll work.”

Dude and Genny’s life together did not come without tragedy or sadness. They outlived both of their sons, David and Sam. But their love for each other, through the good times and especially the hard times, never wavered. And that constant, in part, is why Genny and Dude’s relationship always worked.

Life today without Dude is different, but Genny is adapting. She main tains the social schedule of someone 20 years younger. Every Wednesday, she plays canasta with a group of friends. One of those friends – Polly – is a spry 101 years old and drives herself to the card game from Keithville.

Genny has also had a lifelong love affair with sweets. As a child, she’d use the dime her mother gave her for lunch to buy candy instead.

“If I found a penny in the sofa, I’d walk a mile to spend it,” she recalled. “You could buy a piece of candy for a penny.”

Genny’s sweet tooth hasn’t aged at all in 99 years.

“I eat all the sweets I can,” she said. “I never pass up a cookie.”

Genny picks and chooses her technology. She’s never wanted any part of a cell phone. However, she keeps up with her friends and family through Facebook on her iPad. When asked about the difficulty of learning to use an iPad, her reply was simply, “Oh, there’s nothing to that.”

Looking to the future, Genny is as matter-of-fact as ever about it. She still drives and lives at home in Shreveport and plans to stay there for the rest of her life.

When asked about what a person should do to make it to 99 years of age, Genny laughed.

“Well, I love sweets … really, I have no idea,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of illnesses, but I just bounce back, and I’m still here.”

When reflecting on her life with Dude, Genny downplays the record-breaking nature of their marriage. However, one thing is unmistakable. In an age where divorces are common, Genny and Dude defied all odds. Among the songs played at Dude’s funeral in June, one song – made famous by Nat King Cole – perfectly summed up their incredible love story.

The song was titled “L-O-V-E.”


The Forum News