Arlington church honors 80 couples married at least 50 years

Posted Monday, Apr. 29, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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ARLINGTON -- Through health problems, job changes, home relocations, financial struggles and other family crises they battled, side by side, day by day, until the years turned into decades and the decades reached a half-century or longer.

On Sunday evening, First Baptist Church of Arlington honored 80 couples who have been married a combined 4,600 years. About 20 more couples with at least 50 years of marriage were unable to attend.

The celebration, called Influence 50-plus, was organized to emphasize the value of committed matrimony to younger congregants and to share some of the couples' keys to staying married for life. The church held smaller events in 1997 and 2006.

"As we get older, we can start to think that we're losing influence," said Larry Link, an adult minister who organized the event and took part in it with his wife of nearly 50 years. "I told these couples that just by standing up there they can have an influence and offer hope and share something valuable."

Some of the advice seemed ahead of its time.

Joe and Ann Ferrell, for example, decided when they married that there would be no assignment of household chores by gender.

"I folded clothes," said Joe, who was a student at Baylor University in Waco when he met his bride.

"And changed diapers," interjected Ann.

"That was my favorite," he replied.

Religious faith and church support also played a strong role for many, especially when military service or academic studies kept young couples apart for extended periods.

"I would say it's keep your priorities straight," said Chuck McKinley, who married Claire in 1959. "God first, your marriage second, your family and then work. And I didn't do a very good job of that a lot of times, but because I had a really levelheaded bride, things worked out well for me."

Mary Margaret Basham married Dan in 1949.

"If you want to stay married, don't divorce. Don't talk about it. Don't have that word in your vocabulary," Mary Margaret said.

Learn when not to fight, said Jean Brown, who married Ken in 1952.

"Choose your battles wisely," she said. "Don't be ready to make an issue out of every issue."

Don't go to bed angry, reminded Archie Earle, who has been wed to Marjorie since 1946.

"As far back as I can remember, when we go to bed we always say, 'I love you,'" he said. "And we give each other a kiss goodnight."

Charles Wade, who married Rosemary in 1961, stressed that wedding vows are a bond not to be broken.

"I always will tell a young couple when they get ready for marriage: When you say, 'I will love you,' that's a promise," he said. "You can't always know how you'll feel, but you know what you will do, and if you do loving things, loving feelings take care of themselves."

Although census figures show the overall divorce rate in the U.S. has declined slightly since 1990, divorce has doubled among people 50 and older, according to a study by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

In a culture where many couples toss aside marriage as casually as they change cellphones, the couples honored Sunday have provided much-needed stability and serve as an inspiration to others, Pastor Dennis Wiles said.

They also show younger congregants that "everything doesn't always have to be perfect" for a marriage to work, he said.

"I wonder how many science fair projects you've worked on," Wiles asked the couples in the nearly full sanctuary. "How many train sets you've put together. How many school lunches you've made, how many batches of homemade cookies. I wonder how many Band-Aids you've put on your children's scraped knees, how many rides to band practice or other school activities you've given, how many report cards you've signed.

"I wonder how many sacrifices you've made for the good of your family and the betterment of your church and your community. I think it's right to say tonight that the world is a better place because of you. Thank you."

Patrick M. Walker, 682-232-4674

Twitter: @patrickmwalker1

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