Neighbors: Born days apart in same ND hospital, couple now nearing 50th anniversary together

The two women who lived only 5 miles apart near Glen Ullin, N.D., and knew each other were roommates in the hospital awaiting the births of their babies.
John and Mary Jane Herz will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary next year. Special to The Forum

The two women who lived only 5 miles apart near Glen Ullin, N.D., and knew each other were roommates in the hospital awaiting the births of their babies.

Matilda Fitterer already had two daughters and two sons, but she and her husband Ed wanted another boy so they would have more help on the farm.

Emma Herz and her husband John had five sons but only one daughter, so she was hoping for another girl.

Now, these two women had the same idea when they went into the hospital in Elgin, N.D.: They both took blankets with them that were the color of the gender they wanted their babies to be. Emma had a pink one, hoping for a girl, while Matilda had a blue one, hoping for a boy.

Well, the babies were born. Yes, one was a girl, named Mary Jane, born July 29, 1949, and one was a boy, John, born three days later. But they were born in the opposite order. The woman who wanted a boy got the girl, and the woman wanting a girl got the boy.

Well, the women thought it would be a good idea to take their babies home with the proper color blanket. So they exchanged them (the blankets, not the babies).

The girl for him

A few years later, Mary Jane's parents moved to another farm near Glen Ullin. Mary went to Sacred Heart parochial school in Glen Ullin and John attended a one-room country school near his family's farm. So the two didn't meet until they started high school in 1963.

John quickly found that Mary Jane appealed to him, so he asked her to go to a movie with him on the weekend of their 16th birthdays. It was then they found they had birthdays close to each other.

The next day, John's mom asked him how his date had gone. He said it went well and that he thought he'd like to marry that girl someday.

Emma said, "Wow! Who was this girl?" John told her it was Mary Jane.

Emma then told him of how she had been in the hospital with Mary Jane's mother.

Tying the knot

Well, Mary Jane became a football and basketball cheerleader and John became a student trainer for both sports, which allowed them to become better acquainted. John would always ask her if he could give her a ride home after games. And any time he could have the family car, he'd ask her for a date.

They attended the junior class prom together, and as seniors they attended the homecoming game and dance, where Mary Jane was crowned the 1966 homecoming queen. They also went to the senior class prom together.

"By that time," John writes Neighbors, "I knew she was the lady for me and that is when I went over the edge and asked her if she would marry me when we finished college." And she said yes.

Mary Jane attended Bernel's Hairstyling College (renamed Josef's School of Hair Design), Bismarck, and John went to the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, where he received an associate degree in architectural drafting and estimating.

After they graduated, Mary Jane worked at the G.P. Beauty Salon in Bismarck and John became an engineering technician for the North Dakota Department of Transportation.

"We finally got married June 7, 1969, at the ripe old age of 19," John says. "And yes, I did marry an older woman." Mary Jane was three days older than him.

The kids arrived

When their son Craig was born in 1970, Mary Jane became a stay-at-home mom. Their next child, Todd, was born in 1971. The family moved to Grand Forks in 1973, where John worked for the city as a real estate appraiser in the assessor's office and became the deputy city assessor. In 1973, their daughter Sarah was born.

By 1977, the Herzes needed more income, as their kids were attending Holy Family School and the tuition was expensive. But the couple wanted Mary Jane to be at home for the children, so they added a second floor to their rambler home and turned one of the main floor bedrooms into a beauty shop which they called Mary's Hair Care.

In 2000, after spending all of her time working there, Mary Jane felt she needed something different to do, so she began working part time as a food and beverage server and suites coordinator at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.

A quilt, a vase

John, who sent this story to Neighbors, provides information on their family.

Their son Craig and his wife Tricia have three children and live in Owatonna, Minn.; their unmarried son Todd lives in Grand Forks; and their daughter Sarah and her husband Jon Klinicke and their two children live in West Fargo.

Both John and his wife are from large Catholic Germans from Russia families. Both of their great-great-grandmothers were from the same village in Russia before they came to the United States.

Mary Jane's mom was a great quilter, John says, so when Mary Jane's parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, Mary Jane and John made a quilt for them.

And then one day when the Herzes were visiting Mary Jane's parents, Mary Jane's mother was cleaning her cabinets when she pulled a yellow hobnail vase out, turned to Mary Jane and said, "You should have this." Then she explained that the vase had been a wedding gift to her parents from John's parents while John's parents were still dating but were invited to the wedding.

"We cherish that vase, and it sits in our china cabinet." John says.

John and Mary Jane still live in Grand Forks. John retired as city assessor in 2015 after serving the city of Grand Forks for 42 years, and Mary Jane retired after closing her beauty shop in 2014. Next year, they will celebrate their 70th birthdays and their 50th wedding anniversary.

All four of their parents have passed away.

And there you have the story of the couple for whom a lot of things turned out right, even though they came into the world with blankets of the wrong color.


If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107, fax it to 701-241-5487 or email