Katrina Koerting newsadvance.com
Thursday’s gray weather was a stark contrast to the brightly lit game room where 16 seniors gathered under dangling red hearts and cupids to celebrate love and discuss their long-term relationships.
Framed photos of women in flowing silk gowns holding bouquets of cascading flowers or smiling couples in wedding or military attire lined the table and windowsills in the back of the room at Valley View Retirement Community in Lynchburg. Names and dates, mostly from the 1940s, were taped to the nearly 40 frames showing residents on their wedding days.
“They’ve got such great stories to tell,” said Lori Motley, Valley View’s activity coordinator. “That was a generation that loved each other.”
Motley planned the social as a way to honor the eight married couples living at the center and to give other residents the chance to talk about their significant others and display their wedding photos. This was the first time she hosted such an event.
The idea stemmed from a bulletin board with pictures of the married couples at the center, something Motley has been doing since she started working there. She said women who looked at the photos had expressed a desire to talk about their loved ones who were no longer alive.
She reached out to residents and collected a large number of photos.
“I love when they take the time to bring them down to us,” Motley said.
Several guests walked among the photos, complimenting the gowns and pointing out themselves and friends. Others sat socializing over red velvet cupcakes and hot chocolate.
Throughout the social, Motley singled out some in attendance, giving them the opportunity to share something special about their relationship.
One of those was Joe Carderelli, 92, who will celebrate his 72nd wedding anniversary Saturday with his wife, Eunice, also 92. He said he doesn’t have any specific plans yet but will see his wife “snow or no snow.” Although he lives at Valley View, his wife lives at the Summit, a continuing-care retirement community four miles away.
The couple met in 1936 at church, where he used to play saxophone. He said she liked his playing so much she would sit in the front row and “make eyes” at him. He eventually asked her out for ice cream but had to get her mother’s permission first. After some persuading, the couple was allowed to spend an hour together.
He quickly won her over, and the pair has been married happily since 1942.
“The only way to have a happy marriage is to have Christ in your heart and to serve the Lord,” Carderelli said. He also advises people to stand by each other.
“We read the Bible all of the time and we stay with each other come hell or high water,” he said.
Sammie Stinson looks at wedding photos of residents during the Valentine’s Day themed social focused on honoring their marriages. Most of the photos dated back to the 1940’s.
Most of the hour-long social was spent with residents describing how their mothers made their gowns, how they met their spouses, the love letters they kept over the years and, of course, describing the wedding itself.
“That’s what I hear from all of y’all, how wonderful your husbands and wives were,” Motley told the group after many spoke fondly of their spouses. “I love and respect that so much.”
Dora Hubbard, 100, described her 1933 wedding and how they had to pose for pictures in the sunlight because cameras didn’t have flashes then. She said her mother cooked lunch for the large gathering of family members, and her father had to get the marriage license for them because she was going to miss the bus from Virginia to get to her North Carolina wedding.
Conversations would branch off questions Motley gave the group, including living accommodations once they were wed and how old they were when they got married. Ages ranged from 19 to 24. One woman said she was considered an old maid when she got married at 23 because she was from a rural community down south where most women were married at 16 or 17.
The group was divided on church weddings and ceremonies at homes.
Based on conversations Motley had with residents, she learned many of the women planned weddings but weren’t able to have the ceremonies they envisioned because the men entered the service to fight in World War II. A majority of the seniors raised their hands when Motley asked who married someone in the service or were in the service themselves.
Genida Johnson’s husband, Drew, got three days leave so they could marry at her home in Arkansas. She had planned to go out to El Paso where he was stationed, but his colonel said he wanted them to be able to marry at home with friends and family.
They tied the knot just before news of the D-Day invasion reached the U.S. After the wedding, he returned to his troop and finished the war in Japan.
“We had 65 good years,” Johnson, 89, said, beaming and pointing to a framed picture of them from the day after their wedding, him in uniform and her in a delicate black dress.
She said the key to a long, happy marriage was to have a good set of values and to put the welfare of the other person before one’s own.
“You can’t always have your way,” Johnson said.
She also said to choose your mate wisely. She said she lucked out, describing her husband as a good father and husband.
“He was a Christian man, he lived by Christian values and he treated me with respect and love,” she said.