Patti Armstrong is an award-winning author and was the managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’ bestselling Amazing Grace series. Her latest books are: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories From Everyday Families and Dear God, You Can’t Be Serious. She has a B.A. in social work and an M.A. in public administration and worked in both those fields before staying home to work as a freelance writer. Patti and her husband live in North Dakota, where they are still raising the tail end of their 10 children.
Like any married couple still in love after 54 years, Larry and Marilyn Suchy cast a warm glow when they are together. Their story, however, is not one of complete marital bliss, but one that shows how dramatically God’s grace can heal. It can even take a divorced couple with one spouse having served time in federal prison and renew their marriage. In that way, they are a model couple—models of faith, forgiveness, hope, and love.
One evening, around their kitchen table in Bismarck, North Dakota, Larry and Marilyn shared their story.
Larry graduated from Mandan high school in 1958 and went on to the University of North Dakota, but had to quit after being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. Marilyn graduated from St. Mary’s in 1959. Their paths crossed one evening while cruising Main.
A couple of weeks later at a party, they met again. Marilyn had caught Larry’s eye. He called a couple days later to play tennis. They dated that summer of 1959 and Larry often joined Marilyn for Mass. Then, they parted. She left for college to Yankton, South Dakota for a teacher’s certificate. They talked on the phone occasionally at a time when long distance phone bills were no small thing.
Marilyn kept her options open and still dated others, but her heart must have betrayed her. “One guy I had dated told me: You are going to marry Larry, I know you will,” she recalled.
Another year went by and Marilyn, with her two-year teaching certificate, considered taking a job in Omaha, Nebraska. “Why don’t you stay here and see where this goes?” Larry suggested. So she did. They had a good thing going, often even praying together.
Marilyn began teaching that fall of 1961 at St. Mary’s grade school and Larry took over the family farm after leaving UND. For a time, Larry feared his health problems might preclude a permanent relationship with Marilyn. When she let him know it would not, he proposed.
On August 18, 1962, Marilyn’s 21st birthday, they married at St. Mary’s church. Larry continued farming and Marilyn kept teaching. Their first baby girl was born in 1963. “I thought she was the most beautiful thing that ever happened!” Marilyn explained. A year later, their second child, a son, was stillborn. They were devastated and held a small funeral service. A total of 11 children eventually came. When their eighth child had Down syndrome, they still had three more afterwards.
When people asked Marilyn if she was worried about having another child with Downs, she would inform them: “I’m having the ones that our dear Lord wants us to have.”
Marilyn stayed home with the children as they moved to South Dakota and Williston while Larry worked at a number of jobs including cattle ranching and starting his own machine shop. Both always stayed committed to the faith and parish where they lived.
In 1978, while they were in South Dakota, Larry became sick again with severe digestive problems. Sixteen families from their church where they were very active contributed so that Larry could go to Mayo Clinic. Surgery, medication, and a long recovery forced the family on welfare for a time, but eventually Larry recovered and started his own machine shop.
Amid family life and struggles, there was prayer and good friends. And then, bad checks. There never seemed to be enough money. “I was desperate,” Larry said. His goal was not to cheat, but rather to hedge his bet that he could get money into his account on time. But too often, he lost those bets.
There would be a fine and restitution, then he went back to work determined never do that again. But he did. Larry wanted to be successful. Even his high school classmates expected that of him and had named him “Most Likely to Succeed” his senior year.
Larry’s expectations and hard work kept mixing with bad checks. “I wanted to be somebody,” he admitted. “I was in Knights of Columbus and doing all the right things on the surface but I did not fully live my faith.”
A pattern formed of promising never to write bad checks again, getting in a bind, and writing more bad checks. Then, the sheriff would show up and take Larry away in handcuffs.
Marilyn had become a certified nursing assistant while they lived in Williston for 20 years, then in 1991, while they were both in their fifties and the 3 youngest were in 7th, 8th and 9th grades, she went back to school to become a nurse.
Larry became sick again in 1992 and eventually decided the physical labor involved in the machine shop was too much. He started a new business selling wireless technology, wind turbines and solar systems. But the pattern continued and so did the arrests. Finally, Marilyn determined she had to divorce him. Their finances were a mess. The kids were all graduated from high school and she wanted to protect her own finances and stop the cycle.
“It was the deception that put me over the brink,” Marilyn said, I told the kids: ‘I’m sorry; I think this is the only way your dad is going to learn. I had to extricate myself from myself from his finances too.” They divorced in April of 2007.
Marilyn described it as very painful. “We had happy times, Larry had been a good father, and we had fun together as a family. But I felt I had to do it.”
Marilyn stayed in Bismarck and Larry went to Montana determined to show everyone, he could make it big in the wind turbine industry. But when he was scammed and could not come up with money he needed to finish projects, this was the end of the road.
Larry was arrested in October 2007. He had crossed state lines in his fraudulent business dealings so he was found guilty of wire fraud, a federal offense, sending him to prison for five years. During that time, he experienced three life-changing events.
In jail, right after his arrest, Larry lay down on the floor and bawled for two days. “I pounded my fists on the floor and cried, When am I ever going to change?” he said.
On the morning of the third day, he saw a bright light in his cell. He looked up and saw the face of Jesus with the crown of thorns and blood running down his face. “Jesus said, ‘Follow me and you will find help.’ I reached out and touched his face and it was gone. It was so shocking but I knew it happened.”
Larry arranged for a priest to hear his confession the next day.
After confession, Larry said it felt like he was walking on a cloud. “I had not felt that good for my entire life.” During his time in prison, Larry became on fire with his faith.
After a year of incarceration, it was discovered that he had prostate cancer that had spread to his lungs. He was given four months to a year to live but was sent for surgery. A priest heard his confession, brought him Communion and gave him the anointing of the sick. Afterwards, to the shock of his medical caretakers, his cancer disappeared, his chest x-ray was clear. Larry is convinced that the anointing of the sick healed him.
At his first parole hearing in 2011 when it was turned down, Larry was crushed. But Jesus let him know that he still needed work
He heard Jesus tell him, “Trust in me.”
“It hit me that I had prayed but I had not fully trusted. I still wasn’t completely broken,” he said. “I almost skipped back to my cell.” Three months later in August 2012, he was granted parole.
Marilyn and Larry had not kept in touch much. “I kept praying for him and asking God to help me forgive, but I had detached myself,” she explained.
One night after listening to a healing priest brought in for a weekend at a church in the diocese, she asked him to pray over her, asking God to heal her bad memories and to forgive. For the first time, she felt complete peace.
Larry was on parole in Billings, Montana with his life centered around activities at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He taught Bible studies, taught classes at both the men’s and women’s missions and with a friend started a St. Paul Street Evangelization team. He also had constantly prayed for Marilyn and reconciliation.
That spring, Marilyn went to visit a grandson in Billings. She had taken the weekend off work. While she was there, she got a call out of the blue from Larry about an insurance question he had. Neither had known that the other was in Billings until that moment.
Larry invited Marilyn to join him for street evangelization and out for coffee. That evening, they went to Mass together and prayed in front of a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Marilyn took Larry’s hand and told him that she loved him and forgave him for everything. Tears flowed down their faces
After Marilyn went home and for the next 5 months, they talked on the phone daily and prayed the Divine Office together every morning and evening.
On the day after her 72nd birthday, after Larry’s parole to Bismarck was transferred, Marilyn drove out to bring him home. They never got an annulment so they were still considered married in the eyes of the Church, but still renewed their marriage vows with Father Paul on August 13, 2012 in Billings.
“Our marriage is based on the truth, now,” Marilyn said. “I trust him now.“
“I understand now that marriage is about truly caring and being unselfish,” Larry said. “We walk in faith knowing we are walking with the Lord.”
There have been apologies and much healing within their family. They keep busy engaged in ministries at St. Anne’s parish and Ministry on the Margins. Larry’s cancer has returned and moved into his bones and lungs, so they take their future one day at a time. “I am at peace and look forward to being with the Lord,” he said. “I know it’s going to be way beyond what I saw in the vision.”