I (still) do: Timeless stories of lasting love
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.
Rusty, 87, and Jody, 82, Stalnaker
Married Nov. 11, 2006 -- five years
Their marriage is a second for both after they lost spouses. They were friends as couples and families, whose children knew each other and attended church together for 34 years.
"He knew exactly what he was getting, and I knew what I was getting," Jody said.
"Being by yourself is not much fun, and I'm not a cook. I didn't have the good sense to learn to cook in my previous life, I'm sorry to say," Rusty said. "Loneliness is not much fun. Being together and sharing life together even at our age is very comforting."
After their spouses died, ending Rusty's marriage of 50 years and Jody's of 53, they began traveling and spending time together, and eventually decided to marry. After a visit to the West Virginia State Fair, they stopped by to visit one of her sons. They asked what his reaction to their marriage would be, and he thought it was a good idea. All their children did.
"It's worked out very well for us. We've had a good time and thoroughly enjoyed our life," Jody said.
"We're a couple of lucky old codgers," Rusty chuckled.
They apply lessons learned in their happy first marriages to their relationship today.
"We don't take things as seriously as we probably did then. Now we're at the age where there's not any point in worrying. We're lucky if we get up," Jody said. "You just look at life differently when you get older."
Their advice: "If you get the opportunity to remarry, it works out beautifully, if you've got a good man," she said.
"Both of us feel very fortunate to be able to share our senior years together," Rusty added.
Herman "Linkey," 87, and Kitty Dove Miller, 89
Married Jan. 17, 1947 -- 65 years
The Millers met when Linkey was on leave from the Navy during World War II and he visited his old school, Bramwell High School, where Kitty was teaching. He peeked in the door of her classroom and asked the teacher in the next classroom to introduce them. Kitty, who was dating someone else, said she wasn't interested -- three times. But Linkey was persistent.
"I looked through that little glass in the door and said, 'There's the girl I'm going to marry,'" he said. "That's the first thing I said about her."
"He assumed a lot," she said.
They were 22 and 24.
Was it love at first sight? "I fell head over heels in love with her when I looked through that glass. I don't know why, honey," he said as he smiled at her.
"We have always been very much in love. I wish that I hadn't gone out for a while because I fell immediately. He was still in uniform then," she said.
He persuaded her to go out with him that night and jumped right to the point.
"That night he said, 'If when I get out of the service you feel like you feel now, would you marry me?' I said we'll have to wait until you get out of the service to see because I don't want to marry a man with a woman in every port," she said.
"I didn't have a woman in every port. I missed a couple of them," he said.
After the service, he went back to college and kept asking her to marry him. He showed her his first grades, which were nine A's and three B's. Always the teacher, she told him she'd marry him if he got straight A's.
The next report was straight A's. They married and moved to Grundy, Va., where she taught school and he worked on railroad for 39 years.
Their advice: "Just love each other and be true to each other," Kitty said. "Be truthful and honest."
Ted, 80, and Evelyn, 82, Smith
Married March 3, 1950 -- 61 years
Friends since childhood, attending the same school and church, Ted asked Evelyn to marry him on her 16th birthday.
"We were walking home from church in a light mist under the umbrella. He said, 'I'm going to marry you someday.' He kissed me -- and that was my first kiss," Evelyn said.
They never dated anyone else.
They married several years later during his first year as an engineering student at WVU. "She was in Charleston and I was in Morgantown, and we decided that wasn't going to work," Ted said. "We hadn't been separated in six years," she said.
Their friends supported their decision, but their families told them they were too young to marry. Ted finished his engineering degree at the top of his class. She worked as a lab technician at the university to support them.
They've enjoyed camping vacations together. He was an Eagle Scout and accustomed to roughing it. Early on, she suggested the comfort of a cot instead of the leaky air mattresses he preferred. After a few years, she won the argument.
"You make accommodations. Whenever you get married, you have to make adjustments," he said.
Evelyn considers a support group to be crucial. They have been getting together with a group of friends from their church since 1959. "If we divorced, we would have to answer to them and they to us. There are no divorces in that gang," she said.
Their advice: "It's such a different world. Nowadays, I don't think there would be anybody who would stay with one person from 12 to 20. I don't know. It's a difficult world. For anybody to get married now and be married for 61 years, everything's against it."
"Don't die and don't get a divorce, and you'll make it," Ted quipped.
"You could have said being deeply in love with each other," she said.
"There's a lot of wisdom in sticking with what you've got rather than jumping around, then finding out after three or four jumps that it's really not that much different than the first jump," Ted said. "The problems that occur are not generally unusual. Sometimes they're unique, but in general, I think it's the idea that if things aren't going well, get rid of whatever you've got and get another one."
Harrel, 95, and Lynne, 90, Knight
Married March 3, 2007 -- five years
The Knights were featured in a 2006 Gazette article when they applied for a marriage license at ages 90 and 85. They and their first spouses were close friends for many years until both died.
"Our families were old friends," he said. The two couples were inseparable. "We knew each other from church, golf, social group and traveled together. The women were friends first, probably from church," Lynne said. They all attended First Presbyterian Church.
Loneliness after the loss of their spouses brought them together. "We were visiting here [at Edgewood Summit] on New Year's Eve and were dancing at midnight and we kissed. He said, 'Let's get married.'"
They share interests in golf, dance, travel and dining out.
Their advice: "Be realistic," Lynne said. "Have a sense of humor."
Reach Julie Robinson at email@example.com or 304-348-1230.