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844 years of love, loyalty renewed at MerryWood

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In a month known for young couples saying “I do,” 14 couples came together to celebrate a combined 844 years of love in sickness and health, richer and poorer, better and worse.

“We are here today to recognize and celebrate the worth and beauty of love,” the Rev. Sydney Charnley said as she opened a Saturday ceremony renewing vows for the couples at Atria MerryWood, a senior community on Park Road in Charlotte.

They ranged from Phil and Elizabeth Herrera, “nearly newlyweds at 31 years of marriage,” to four couples celebrating 66 years of marriage.

Bill Edwards was just back from serving in New Guinea in World War II when he met his bride-to-be, Gloria, at the University of Illinois. They wed in a formal Episcopal ceremony on June 7, 1947. Sixty-six years later, he jumped the gun to sneak her a kiss, and his voice quivered with emotion as he recited a poem about their love.

“I love you then as I love you now, since first we said our wedding vow,” he said. “What lies ahead we cannot know. But one thing’s quite clear: I’ll be with you, my glow.”

Dick Katz, on the other hand, held back when Charnley told the men, “You may kiss your beautiful brides.”

“Can we get by without this?” he called out. “Our bridges get hung up.”

Katz recalls borrowing his father’s shoes to marry Doris at the Little Church on the Lane in Charlotte, then worrying that holes in the soles would show when he knelt. It was June 14, 1947. “The biggest thing that day,” Katz says, “was it was the first time they allowed liquor stores in Charlotte.”

Joyce Hubbard, whose job is planning activities for the community of 180 residents, came up with the idea for the group renewal when she realized how many long-wed couples were there. When she started work at MerryWood 15 years ago, she said, the community had only six men. Now there are about 40 men and 20 married couples, 15 of whom agreed to participate.

At this stage of life, nothing can be taken for granted. One of the couples missed the ceremony because the wife had been rushed to the hospital.

But the celebration of love and life went on. Wedding photos were on display as neighbors, children and grandchildren gathered. Dharma Peterson, a teen harpist, provided music. Harris Teeter donated corsages for the couples, and Suarez Bakery provided a wedding cake for afterward.

Charnley, who had never done a group renewal of vows, collected thoughts from the couples about making a marriage last.

They talked about patience, coping and laughter. One husband suggested “saying ‘Yes, ma’am.’ ” Another suggestion: “Accept criticism but don’t criticize.”

“And a no-brainer for success,” Charnley reported. “Say ‘I love you’ at least once a day.”

Helms: 704-358-5033; Twitter @anndosshelms
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