A forty year love story

Dennis Warden

It was a cold blustery day in February 40 years ago. The beautiful bride was anxiously waiting in the basement of the small country church in a floor length gown she had sewn herself, with the help of her mother and grandmother. She would carry a bouquet of white roses, white daisies and baby’s breath. 

The groomsmen wore light blue tuxedos with black lapels, black bow ties and ruffled shirts.

Family and guests were seated.

The last to arrive, just a little late, for the double-ring candle light ceremony was the bridegroom, accompanied by Ricky, his best man.

Perhaps it was the heat from the candles, maybe the groom was a little nervous — it was most likely a combination of the two that required the best man to escort the groom outside for some fresh air in the middle of the ceremony.

After his return the vows were exchanged and their life as a married couple began.

They didn’t know it then, but that was the start of a special marriage, one that has lasted 40 years, affecting the lives of two beautiful children, six grandchildren and countless friends whose lives they have touched.

Life did not start out easy for our young married couple. You could say they had an uphill battle. An unplanned pregnancy had set the date for that February wedding. 

The bride in this love story dropped out of college and gave up her dream of becoming a nurse to start their life in a small mobile home outside of town.

The groom, at just 17-years-old, worked out a deal with the high school principal in order to graduate in May. He would attend school half days for the rest of the school year so he could work the other half to earn enough money to support his wife and unborn child.

You need to do three main things if you live in the United States to avoid poverty: finish high school, marry before having a child, and marry after the age of 20. Only 8 percent of families who do all three are poor; however, 79 percent of those who fail to do all three are poor.

This couple had more than one strike against them — they married at a young age and had their first child six months after the wedding.

I never heard them complain about the cards that life, in the beginning, had dealt them. They buckled down, lived an honest life and  worked hard to make sure their two girls would have a better life.

With their father’s constant guidance, and the sacrifice of his knees, the girls were both accomplished athletes in high school softball and basketball.

They both worked hard to put their daughters through college. They have since seen the fruits of that labor come to fruition as both girls became successful in their careers, married and started families of their own.

Now they are ready to move into their dream home on a lake front lot at Peaceful Valley.

None of this was imagined when I stood at the front of St. John’s United Church of Christ in Bem and watched the bride walk down the isle on Feb. 25, 1978.

They have been a wonderful example. Five of eight of us who were in their wedding party have been married to our spouses for over 30 years.

On Saturday night many of us who were in the wedding, along with their youngest daughter Kelly her husband Darrin along with other close friends gathered for a surprise party for the couple. Their first born, Kristie, could only attend through face time.

Were they in love when they were married? I’m sure they thought they were. But I’m also convinced that 40 years of marriage has taught them that what we think is love at the beginning of a relationship has no comparison to what one feels after sharing a life together with your spouse for 20, 30, 40 or more years. 

No doubt we will all gather together again in 10 years for their 50th.

Words cannot express how much better our lives, the lives of our children, and our culture would be if more people simply lived their lives like Ray and Anita.