Although it certainly wasn’t their first time saying “I do,” for 28 couples representing a combined 1,500 years of marriage, this latest affirmation of their commitment to one another was just as important as the first.
The couples gathered in the auditorium of the John Knox Village retirement community in Pompano Beach on Thursday afternoon to renew their vows in a ceremony for those who had reached 45 or more years of marriage.
With 75 years of marriage, Irwin and Paula Woolf were the longest-married couple.
The couple met at a mutual friend’s “sweet 16” birthday party.
“I went to the party with somebody else,” said Paula Woolf. “And I left with Irwin.”
They married in 1938 in a Manhattan hotel. Given the newlyweds’ tight finances, their honeymoon was the ride on the Fifth Avenue bus to their uptown apartment.
Three-quarters of a century later, they found themselves with a chance to do it again at ceremony where they were the guests of honor.
First came the flower girl, sprinkling the aisle with white petals. Then the stream of couples came, some spryly, others with the help of canes, walkers or wheelchairs.
Each couple held their original wedding photograph, most in black-and-white. Some of the men wore their uniforms and medals from distant wars.
When all were assembled in front of the crowd of seated family and friends, Chaplain Gregory Fitch, the retirement community’s spiritual life director, began by reminding all of the sacredness of the vows that had been sworn all those years ago.
“Love and loyalty alone will avail as the foundation of a happy and enduring home,” Fitch said, as some couples nodded their agreement.
“Which I’m sure you know very well,” he quickly added.
The vows were exchanged and Fitch gave husbands permission to kiss their wives.
Most planted a modest kiss onto their partners. But a number of the men did their husbandly duty with much more enthusiasm, holding their loved ones to their lips well after the applause had subsided and the other couples had disengaged.
As the most senior couple, the Woolfs were brought forward to cut the cake. In a burst of playfulness, Paula Woolf smudged a fingerful of white frosting onto her husband’s nose before giving it a taste herself.
The ceremony was enjoyed by the participants’ assembled family and friends, as well.
“It really is just very touching to see love that has lasted so long,” said Tomey Sellars, a singer who often finds herself performing at others’ weddings when she isn’t watching her parents renew their own vows.
Her parents, Richard and Gloria Tomey, have been married for 53 years.
They met through a friend, who was dating Gloria before she became Mrs. Tomey. When the friend went to military school, he asked Richard Tomey to keep an eye on Gloria for him. Richard Tomey may have kept too close an eye on her, since they got married three years later.
It’s not luck or magic that has kept them together, but hard work, the Tomeys said.
“Marriage is a lot of maintenance,” Gloria Tomey warned.
It seems that their daughters have taken that advice to heart. Two of the four are nearing 30 years of marriage. A third is getting married next March.
Sellars is the only one who isn’t tying the knot in the immediate future, which was a cause for some teasing at their table.
“I’m waiting for the right one,” Sellars said with a smile. She wants to be sure that when she gets married, it will last forever. Just like her parents’.