Luling couple thrives on 70-year marriage

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 2, 2001

Leonard Gray

LULING n Norman “Old Man Wiggle” Wigle and his wife, Ann, have traveled a long road together and they hope for several years to come.
Wigle, 89, claims to be the oldest picture framer around. Also a studio and wedding photographer, his skills remain in demand at NorAnn Fine Arts in Luling, though he never advertises.
Their latest claim to fame, however, is the recent celebration of their 70th wedding anniversary, remarkable enough, even considering they knew each other only a few months before, and he had to talk her into it for two hours.
He met young Ann Zerkus while he was serving in the U.S. Coast Guard and stationed in Tarpon Springs, Fla. in 1930.
“I saw this tall, skinny gal with blonde hair jumping rope and I told my shipmate she was the girl I was going to marry,” he recalled. “He said, no I wouldnt, since that was his little sister.”
He still remembers after their wedding on Sept. 23, 1930 before a justice of the peace in Tampa, Fla., heading to the Phyle Hotel, Room 625, for their wedding night. Theirs has been a love story ever since.
Wigle remembers so much of the 20th Century, and meeting some of the remarkable men of that period, from Henry Ford to George Washington Carver.
He was born in St. Louis, Mo., and lived next door to the house where Western outlaw Jesse James was murdered. By the time he was five years of age, the family relocated to Baltimore, Md., and soon, the family was in Dearborn, Mich.
“I once sat alongside of him in a barber shop getting my haircut,” Wigle said of Henry Ford. Often, when the pond alongside the Dearborn Independent newspaper office was frozen over, Ford would hurry out with skates and join the children. “He was a very down-to-earth man.”
One time, Wigle continued, a “big, black Lincoln pulled up” at the plant and the children were introduced to George Washington Carver, who was advising Ford on possible soybean use in industry.
At 11 years of age, Wigle taught himself how to drive, sneaking out of the house in the wee hours of the morning to take his fathers Oakland Touring Car on jaunts. This yen to keep moving nibbled at Wigle, who ran away from home twice.
One of those times, he stowed away aboard the “Greater Detroit” and made his way to Niagra Falls, intending to be a shoeshine boy. Instead, police found him and he soon was returned to Michigan.
At 15 years of age, Wigle lied about his age, claiming to be 18, and got work as a chauffer for the owner of a clothing store chain. At 16, he joined the Coast Guard, again lying about his age to get in. By his third year, he had attained the rank of First-Class Petty Officer, one of the youngest, as special permission was obtained to promote him. They thought he was 20; actually he was 19.
That age thing came in again when he met and married Ann. “She thought I was 23, when I was really 19, and she was 17 years old. She was ready to divorce me,” he recalled.
However, the enterprising Wigle, now with a bride, moved north once more and became a yacht captain on the Great Lakes. He had just brought a yacht down to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. when word came of Pearl Harbor. The couple, now with a son, went back to Detroit, where he went into war work, assembling oxygen equipment for the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Toward the end of the war, Wigle was working in New Orleans for Higgins Plastics, assembling parts used later for the atomic bomb. He was back in Florida after the war installing sprinkler systems, and back in New Orleans after the Korean War, working first at Avondale Shipyards, then at American Cyanamid (now Cytec).
For most of 40 years, Wigle and Ann have also deeply involved themselves in Boy Scouts, starting many new troops in the New Orleans area and earning a Silver Beaver award for service to Scouting.
He enjoyed the camping and trips immensely. “I did all the cooking, and she was the queen of the troop,” Wigle said.
The couple soon built their home on Evelyn Drive, the first house on that street when it was developed in the 1950s, where theyve lived ever since. The family, including daughter Marianne and son Warren, contributed five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
He picked up his nickname, “Old Man Wiggle,” when he and his son were working at American Cyanamid and the plant would call, asking for either the “old man” or the “young man.”
And how did Wigle get into photography? “Ive just always had a camera,” he said, and open NorAnn Fine Arts in the 1960s as a retirement hobby, never imagining it would be a whole new career which has lasted longer than any previous job.
Wigle is also immensely proud of having urged four of his Scouts to the U.S. military academies, not bad for someone with only an eighth-grade education.
On Aug. 17, 2001, Wigle plans to celebrate his 90th birthday and says he has no plans to “retire,” figuring he has another 10 years in him. He and Ann recently returned from yet another Caribbean cruise, and she often phones him at the studio, and can hardly bear to be parted from him, even though he only works four hours a day, five days a week.
They celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary with a dinner at Esperanza Restaurant in Luling and look forward to more years together.
“I hope Im still here,” Wigle said with his ever-ready smile.