Larry Tong grew up in Madras, Oregon, about 48 miles north of Bend. Florence came from Redmond, which was 28 miles south of Madras. Though her name is Florence, most people call her Flo. Larry first introduced Flo to his family as Loree, her middle name. They still call her Loree.
In 1964-65, Larry commuted three days a week to attend classes in Bend at the Central Oregon Community College. Larry says, “I was kind of ignorant and got 8:00 classes, so I had to get up early to drive my Corvair to school.” After one year of college, Larry started working at a newspaper office. Flo, who was 17 at the time they met, cared for an elderly couple. The woman was blind and sat in the middle of the living room floor most of the time; she ate and slept there. Her husband, who had been in the Spanish-American war, loved to tell stories to the high school kids in the college.
The lady had a collection of “End of Day” glass that Flo had to wash. She got very nervous doing this job, as the glass was very fragile and she was afraid she would break it. “End of Day” glass was made with all the glass left over when the glass-blower had finished for the day. The odds and ends were blown into an “end of day” piece. Flo never broke one of them.
Flo and Larry met at a mutual friend’s New Year’s Eve party. Larry came to visit the party, not intending to stay. Flo says she fell in love with him at first sight. She tended to be shy; however, she followed him home and made sure they got acquainted. They were married 5 weeks later.
Flo tells the story of going driving with her mom and seeing Larry. She said to her mom, “Honk, Mom! That’s Larry.” Her mom said, “I don’t want to honk at that beatnik.” However, because Larry had a job, the community accepted him, even though he had a beard. Beatniks had a bad rep. The community there was redneck cowboy and thought nothing of rounding up squatting beatniks every now and then and kicking them out of town.
Larry says, “Flo was 17 when I met her. She turned 18 in January and didn’t need her
parents’ permission to marry. However, Larry, then 20, had to get his parents’ permission. They were married in her parents’ home by a Justice of the Peace. They have now been married 51 years.
In early times in Gustavus, there were many young couples who had not been together all that long. One time Rob Bosworth asked Larry how long he & Flo had been married. When Larry answered, “Ten years,” Rob said, “Wow! I don’t know anyone who has been married that long.”
Larry said, “What really cemented our relationship was our parents. After three or four weeks, the couple brought their parents together to meet. The older folks had so much in common that they ignored us. They had so much to share. They realized we might really get along because our backgrounds were the same.”
After Larry and Flo married, Larry was working for the weekly newspaper, The Redmond Spokesman, in Redmond, OR. He worked as a pressman and linotype operator. The newlyweds lived in an apartment ½ block from the newspaper office. Within a year, they bought a little house that had been built in 1942. They paid $16,000. The owner wanted $500 down, but the couple only had $300 in the bank. The owner accepted that. Their mortgage payments were $75/month for the first year, then reduced to $60.
On October 9, 1968, Joe was born. A few months after Joe’s birth, Larry asked his boss for a raise. He was getting $3.00 per hour. Five weeks later, he got a nickel raise. He started looking for other employment. He found a job advertised in a trade magazine in Juneau. Larry had all the skills they needed. He didn’t even know where Juneau was. At the time he first got to Juneau, the population was 16,000. His employer paid his way up. He wanted to see if Larry had the skills he needed before hiring him. After a couple of days he got the job.