February 11, 2012
I (still) do: Timeless stories of lasting love
Douglas Imbrogno
Lawrence Pierce
Bill and Peggy Hitchman: "I'll pass on what my mother told all the brides that she knew: 'Never go to bed mad,'" Peggy said.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Cupid's aim was true when he targeted eight Charleston couples who will renew their wedding vows Tuesday on Valentine's Day at Edgewood Summit.

Among them they represent 320 years in their current marriages. Some married young during World War II, others remarried later in life after a spouse's death. One 40-year marriage is a second after both suffered through painful divorces.

They laughed and finished each other's sentences as they shared the love stories they'd forged in good times and bad. For better, or for worse.

Here are their stories:

Bill, 92, and Peggy, 92, Hitchman

Married Aug. 27, 1943 -- 68 years

They met in kindergarten at Glenwood Elementary School in Charleston. They entered the Navy in World War II, and served in different divisions -- "We weren't allowed to be together." He visited her on the weekends for about a year before he proposed.

They were both on leave in New York City when he popped the question in Central Park at about 4 a.m. Nineteen days later they were married back home at Bream Church. Military personnel weren't allowed to appear in public in civilian clothes, but Peggy received special permission to wear a gown for her wedding.

"We knew he was going overseas shortly," she said. They lived on separate posts, even after they married. He shipped out shortly afterward. They didn't see each other again for more than two years.

They moved home together in November 1945. "It was pillar and post for a while. Nobody had any place to live, but it was great to be together after all that long time," Peggy said. "It wasn't easy, but nobody was having it easy in those days."

When asked what has made their 68-year marriage successful, Bill replied, "Is it successful?"

Their advice: "I'll pass on what my mother told all the brides that she knew: 'Never go to bed mad,'" she said.

Bob, 89, and Pat, 87, Perelman

Married Jan. 30, 1945 -- 67 years

The Perelmans met when Bob was a waiter in Pat's sorority house at Iowa State University, where he was a cheerleader and she was in the pep club. He caught her eye immediately. "He has enthusiasm, and he hasn't lost that," she said.

He noticed her because she was the only one who came down to breakfast with her hair not in curlers. "For 67 years, I've had to comb my hair before I can have breakfast," she said. They dated for about a year before deciding to marry.

"Every spring on campus, they had an evangelist/renewal thing. We both went to that and I was walking her back to the sorority house when I proposed to her or she proposed to me," Bob said.

He graduated and joined the Navy, but returned to campus on leave. They were married in the sorority house where they met. She left school to accompany her new husband to the base, where he had volunteered for the underwater demolition crew.

"I could have killed him. Can you imagine? Trunks and flippers. That's all he had." Pat asked, "Why did you volunteer?"

"When I volunteered I was not married," Bob explained.

The squad was the forerunner of Navy SEALs. Pat went home to live with her parents in Chicago while he served in Pacific.

"He's a very adventurous person," she said.

After the war, Bob went to work with Union Carbide. The company moved the couple 10 times in five years. Relocations can be hard on a marriage, but the Perelmans grew together. They adopted two children, a son who died in childhood and a daughter who died in her 40s.

"That strengthened our marriage, that and our faith," she said. "We had to. We lost both our children."

Both Bob and Pat were active in the community; Pat started Covenant House and Bob led the West Virginia AARP as its first president. They agreed that their support of the other's activities also guided their strong marriage. "We grew and respected each other's interests."

Their advice: "Love each other and express that each and every day. You have to work at it every day. You don't ever take it for granted." Bob said. "Be interested in what the other person is doing. Support each other."

Deward "Ed," 85, and Betty, 80, Burroughs

Married Sept. 27, 2002 -- nine years

The marriage is his third and her second, after they both lost their spouses to death. They were longtime friends.

"We've known each other for 40 years. We went to the same church, and lived in the same neighborhood in Marmet. We first met at First Baptist in Marmet," she said.

What prompted the later-in-life marriage? "I can't cook," he said.

"He called me up and invited me for breakfast. I thought he meant next week or something. I asked when and he said, 'Right now. The biscuits are in the oven.'"

When she arrived at his house that morning, he asked her if she could make gravy for the biscuits. "Well, I'm still making gravy. It's been 12 years," she said. "He knew I could cook, or he wouldn't have called me."

Why did these longtime friends remarry? "I was very lonesome. That was the first time in my life I'd been by myself. My husband had been gone for three years," she said. He sticks to his claim that he needed a cook.

Their advice: "Just be honest with each other," Ed said.

Earle, 75, and Barbara, 70, Brown

Married Oct. 20, 1971 -- 40 years

The marriage is the second marriage for both of them, who divorced their first spouses. She had three children and he had two children. Both considered the blending of their families to be a priority.

"We put a family together, five children aged 3 to 12. It was a challenge, but it meant everything," she said. Regular vacations at their beach house in North Carolina solidified the family. "They couldn't be closer if they all had been born to us," she said.

"Some friends introduced us and we got married four months later. We've been married and together 40 years. They just knew we were perfect for each other," Barbara said. "He was very intelligent and sensitive and immediately accepted my children as his own."

"She's a go-getter, schoolteacher, intellectual, and she knew how to raise a family. It all fit," Earle said.

Why is this second marriage so successful? "It never occurred to us, although we'd both been divorced, that it wouldn't last. We were determined that it was going to last, whatever it took," she said. "We became very involved in our church. We just wanted so badly to be a family."

They'd dated for two months when he proposed during a trip to visit his aunt in Richmond, Va. They married two months later.

"It was right. You just know these things," Barbara said.

Their advice: "I have this notion that so many people now get married thinking that if it's not right we can get a divorce. We never for one minute saw that as an out. This has to work. We have five children who are counting on us," she said.

"Find someone really nice and compatible and pretty and sensitive and a few other things," Earle added.

"I just feel extremely blessed. We have had the loss of our daughter [who died unexpectedly at 46], which was so tragic. It's not like we've had smooth sailing all alone ... You just love each other and help each other enough and are open to each other enough that somehow you get through whatever it is. Of course, we were very strong Christians. God has helped us stay together after putting us together," she said.

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