Growing old together
Long-time couples celebrate marriages of up to 71 years
Eight married couples celebrated decades of anniversaries this month at Brandywine Senior Living at Fenwick Island. Collectively, they have been married 519 years.
“It falls into a tradition, and an honorable one … and I think we have a lot to learn from them,” said organizer Kathy Jacobs. “It was about their love for one another and their devotion for one another. I don’t discount the weddings today … all of that is great if you don’t lose sight with what it’s all about, which is the couple and the love.”
Among the couples celebrating anniversaries this year: Andy and Peggy McCartney (74 years), Chuck and Marjie Kriner (70), Reba and Robert “Bob” Finicle (68), Kathy and Kelly Main (68), Jeanne and Richard Sowieralski (61), Cynthia and Paul Wagner (61), R.J. and Betty White (60) and William “Bill” and Elisabeth “Betty Mae” Patterson (57).
Most of the anniversaries occurred in June, which is the traditional wedding month, said Jacobs, Brandywine’s director of community relations. When she realized the sheer length of those marriages, her plans to celebrate them just snowballed.
“I wanted to do this because they’re definitely milestones in their lives, and we share their milestones with them,” Jacobs said.
“When I look at my generation and other generations that are younger, the same values obviously aren’t applying, because marriages aren’t lasting as long — if they even get married.”
A month of fun events, including bachelorette parties and “The Newlywed Game,” led up to a wedding anniversaries party on June 13 at Brandywine.
Several long-timers discussed their marriages, which continue today in the halls of Brandywine.
Girl next door
“After all these years, we’re very much in love,” Reba Finicle said.
She and Robert “Bob” Finicle celebrated 68 years of marriage this June.
As a teenager in Pennsylvania, Reba went to work for an aunt who was having an operation. Bob was their neighbor.
“So she was the girl next door,” Bob Finicle said.
Although she didn’t know him well, she wished Bob luck when he entered World War II. He later told her family, “If farmer girls can write, tell Reba to write me letter.”
They wrote and eventually went to the movies together on his first leave.
“She was a good-mannered girl, nice-looking girl,” he said. “[Her family] seemed to be happy. She was not demanding, and she didn’t need much, so we got along very well.”
Reba found Bob to be nice and not pushy. Plus they had fun together, even when he had to drag his grandpa along. But grandpa had wisdom.
“One thing he said to us that helped us make it — he said, ‘Life is just what you make it,’” Reba Finicle recalled.
They were engaged after two years and were married in 1947. He had already socked away money from his summer job, buying them four acres of land for $75 each.
He worked reading meters, and she was a home keeper until a nearby bank asked her to apply for a teller position. She accepted their second offer, eventually becoming head bookkeeper.
“I encouraged her to do it. Not for the sake of money, but if anything happens to me, she’d have an income,” Bob Finicle said.
Their home was full, with three children, plus seven foster children.
Reba Finicle recalled one of the sweetest things Bob ever said: “He said to me after we were married for a while, ‘You’ve been my sweetheart, my mom, my wife.’ That’s what he said to me. Because he was only 12 when his mom died.”
After 40 years together in their home state, they moved to Arizona, vacationing across the world on a budget, thanks to a travel agent friend.
“We did so many things together — my goodness, so many memories,” Bob Finicle said. “We were all saved people. Our children were born up in the church. Now they can look forward to a day in heaven.”
How can other people build a successful marriage?
“Be understanding and go to church. That really helps,” Reba Finicle said. “Talk things over.”
A good team
This month, Chuck (94) and Marjie Kriner (93) renewed the vows they first spoke in 1945.
“It’s something we’ve wanted to do. It’s the 70th, and it’s sort of special. Not many people go to 70 years,” he said.
And they still love each other, rarely spending time apart, even today.
It all began with a blind date at an amusement park.
Chuck Kriner’s family had moved to the Washington, D.C., area, where he and Marjie met in high school.
After several dates, they switched to letters when he entered the Army Air Forces. They were married when he came home on a 30-day leave.
But World War II “wasn’t over. She had to put up with it. It ended in Europe, then they sent me to California,” Chuck Kriner said.
He narrowly avoided shipping off to the South Pacific, and instead came home to his bride. They lived in D.C, then Maryland.
On the first impression, they both found each another to be cute.
“We need each other now,” Chuck Kriner said. “She’s handicapped, and I’m handicapped. I can’t hear, and she can’t walk.”
“We do have problems,” she agreed.
But they’re a good team.
“We are. That’s my baby,” he said, taking Marjie’s hand. “We just enjoy life together, that’s all.”
They had one son, no major problems and several special vacations, including a honeymoon in Atlantic City. He worked for a vending company warehouse and a gas company and in government. She worked for a stationary company and was still typing after they were married.
Their key to a strong marriage was “Lots of love and a good Lord,” Chuck Kriner said.
“We got along good,” she said.
“Stay true to each other,” he added.
Marjie Kriner laughed when he said they didn’t argue too much.
“Don’t ever go to bed mad,” Chuck Kriner said.
He hopes to reach 75 years together, but Marjie Kriner said, “I want more than that!”
Double blind date
What are the chances that two blind dates will lead to 61 years of marriage? Jeanne and Richard Sowieralski got lucky on that count.
“Everything we did was together,” said Jeanne Sowieralski, even if that means attending an interview solo and returning to tell him all about it.
She lived near his all-male college in Pennsylvania, and they ran in the same crowd. As freshmen, they met once on a blind date.
“You didn’t date much. You always went in a group,” she said. “By the end of the night you were usually paired off with somebody.”
Sowieralski found Richard to be “very shy,” but they became better acquainted. By the time they were set up on a second blind date in their sophomore year, they clicked.
They did whatever they could afford.
“You know how it is in college — you never have any money to do anything,” Sowieralski mused.
Although he was drafted two weeks after graduation, she had an engagement ring before he went to Korea for 20 months.
“He sent letters almost every day. He was right on the front line. He was a medic,” Sowieralski said. “I was a working for Philco radio and television when television first came out … in the engineering department, so you were where everything was being discovered.”
He returned to Pennsylvania in April, and they were married on May 1, 1954.
“Our personalities just seemed to want the same things. He wanted to go into agriculture. I wanted to be a mother,” Sowieralski said.
Why did the marriage last?
“Five children!” she laughed. “That was five children right in a row. We both wanted children. We both enjoyed our kids. And we were lucky we didn’t have any major problems or anything like that. We were very, very fortunate.”
When things do get tough, “You just work together, that’s all. You set your goal. His was farming, mine was children. He was a very good father. His children mean a lot to him.”
While the Sowieralskis moved a lot, it always advanced their goals.
“We always had goals,” Sowieralski said. “It’s important to know what the other person wants or desires, and then you help them reach those goals.”
“We just always clicked together,” she said. “Understand — we had our disagreements, too. You either fight for your opinion or go with the other person. It all depends on how important it is to you. … We were just very lucky that we got along.
“You just have to work out your problems every day. Every day is a challenge, you know? You have to think alike.”
Mutual athleticism was the basis for William “Billy” (80) and Elisabeth “Betty Mae” Patterson (81), married 57 years this month.
Playing football and baseball at University of Delaware, Billy Patterson was drawn to the field hockey player from Milford.
“I saw her at the end of a football game. I asked my fraternity brother, ‘Who’s that?’” Billy Patterson said. “‘That’s Betty Mae Snowberger. Her brother, Ralph, plays on the football team.’”
That would be an easy introduction for Patterson. He said he got the thumbs-up.
“She was intelligent, first of all,” but also cute and from a family with a history of playing baseball. “It was sort of a natural fit.”
They were dating by the end of his freshman year, and they married on the heels of his graduation in 1958. She had already graduated and was working in Pennsylvania when he brought the ring on a visit.
“I thought it was as good a time as any,” he said.
“She’s intelligent. She’s cute. She could dance. She’s very considerate, maybe be too kind. But she’s very competent,” Patterson said. “She had a good personality.”
Plus, he was in love with her.
Betty Mae was a homemaker as her husband’s electric company job and stint with the armed forces towed them around Pennsylvania and briefly to Europe.
“It was stressful on her, because if you were married, you went to Germany in those days,” Patterson said. “If you were single, you went to Korea.”
How did they stay together for so long?
“That’s a good question. It’s not like today. Let’s put it this way: Back when I was growing up, you had a simple life. It was pretty well spelled out by somebody else or yourself,” said Patterson, who planned his dream job in engineering.
“I cannot give [her enough] credit for raising five kids. She pretty much did it herself, and it is not easy when you’re banging them out,” Patterson said. “She was determined, and she knew how to raise them. And I didn’t have to worry about it while I was working in Philadelphia.”
The couple went through hard times together, too, but “As my aunt said … ‘Billy don’t worry about it. Everything’s gonna work out all right,’” Patterson said.
They raised five “good kids” and student athletes.
“First of all, praise the Lord, I got five healthy children. And sometimes you can’t buy that,” he said. “Three boys and two girls, and they all have jobs and their children are doing well.”