Grow old with me, the best is yet to be.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. – I Corinthians 13:4-7

This passage, from what many call the “love chapter” of the Bible, is often heard at weddings. But how often do we take the time to really examine the words as they relate to marriage? Three couples, with more than 200 combined years of marriage, have found that being kind, honoring, selfless and trusting in each other, through the good and the bad, have resulted in long, happy marriages.

75 years

Paul and Alberta LaFary

Love at first sight. That’s what it was for Paul and Alberta LaFary of Paxton. It all began with a romantic walk at a Nazarene church camp meeting in Calhoun County in August of 1940, and seventy-five years later their love has never faltered.

Alberta was the 18-year old daughter of an apple farmer and Paul, 23, was from a farm in rural Canton. The fateful meeting occurred thanks to one of Paul’s friend’s plans to visit family in Calhoun County, and a subsequent invitation to stay for the camp meeting that was to begin that evening. In those days, church camp meetings were 10-day social affairs that drew crowds from far and wide.

Paul caught Alberta’s eye right away, and she asked her sister to talk to him about taking her for a walk. He walked her and her sister home that night, and every night of the meeting. “We just had the best time during those 10 days,” beams Alberta. “We would go out to the country school and teeter-totter and just have a good time together.”

Less than a year later, on June 21, 1941, they were married in St. Louis. Neither family had much money, so that big church wedding Alberta had always dreamed about wasn’t possible. Besides, Paul had always been nervous about walking down an aisle, and her “dream” was a nightmare to him. Instead, they went to the Clark County courthouse in Missouri for the license and were married by a pastor friend.

They were only married about six months when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Paul was drafted, and in February went into the Air Force as an airplane mechanic. He took his new bride when he was transferred to Lincoln, Neb., but she soon had to return to Illinois alone because he was shipped to California.

Paul became an expert in hydraulics and was instrumental in repairing downed planes to return to their missions. With his talent for working on planes, he would ultimately work in 54 different bases around the world and see the first jets take flight. After his service ended, he taught hydraulics and airplane mechanics for more than 30 years at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul.

The family bought a house in Paxton and put down roots. Alberta was busy raising their son Danny, born about a year after the couple married, daughter Ruth Ann and son David. She came from a frugal background and knew how to stretch their dollars by growing a big vegetable garden, canning and butchering chickens.

All the while, their marriage remained strong. When their 50th anniversary was approaching Alberta told Paul, “Honey, I’d like to get married again. And, he said, ‘Well, I hope it’s to me,’” she recalled with a giggle.

Their children and grandchildren helped with all of the planning and they surprised their church “family” by renewing their vows between Sunday School and the church service. She was tickled to have added some special touches to a white dress to wear, fresh flowers and a wedding cake to celebrate the occasion.

Seventy-five years later their love has never faltered.

“We’ve had such a good life together, and have always been so happy,” says Alberta. “Things weren’t always easy, and we didn’t have a lot, but we had each other.”

Paul, age 98, and Alberta, 93, offer advice that has served them well in nearly 75 years of marriage.

Their strong Christian beliefs have kept them steadfast through the tough times. They say you just have to talk things out and be willing to listen to the other one. “You can’t get mad and hateful at each other,” she explains. “That just stains your mind forever. And, neither one of you can be too bossy.”

You can hear the never-ending love in each of their voices as they talk and hold hands. “Our love is forever,” she says. “Not one twinkle has ever died.”

65 Years

Howard and Bev Schweighart

On April 28, Howard and Bev Schweighart of Champaign will see their 65th anniversary. They met at a dance, held every Saturday and Sunday night, in Pesotum. Both of them were in high school and loved dancing, especially the jitter-bug. They dated for several years before getting engaged. Howard was from a big family – he had seven brothers and eight sisters – and they had a large farmhouse in Pesotum. It wasn’t uncommon for Bev to stay in one of their rooms on a Saturday night, rather than have him drive her back to her home in Seymour, more than 20 miles away.

Howard was drafted in November, 1950, and one Saturday night at Christmastime, while on their way back to his family’s house, Howard, 23, surprised Bev, 21, by pulling the car over and reaching in the backseat for a small box he had hidden in a sack. He proposed, and she said, yes!

Soon after, Howard received his orders to go to Korea after basic training. They made plans to be married in April before he was shipped overseas, and Bev was going to follow him out to Washington. In the meantime, Howard’s orders were cancelled. The Army had found that Howard was a good typist and made him a clerk typist for a lieutenant at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.

That was a real blessing for them. They could be together and would be close enough to come home on three-day weekend passes.

Their wedding on April 28, 1951, was an all-day affair. Bev wore an ice-blue wedding gown which was quite popular at the time. She remembers Howard’s mother being shocked that she would choose a blue dress, rather than a white one. They were married at 9 a.m. and the day was filled with photos, food and unwrapping presents at Bev’s family home. And, they had to go to the dance at Pesotum that night, after all, that’s how they had met.

After a short honeymoon to Lake of the Ozarks, they moved into a small two-room apartment at Fort Leonard Wood, which included a kitchen and a bedroom. They had to share a bathroom with the landlady and carry water back to the kitchen, which had no running water. Howard, an avid outdoorsman, discovered their landlady had a teenage son that loved to hunt and fish and that’s where Howard could be found most weekends. His love of hunting and fishing helped them to stretch their food dollars during those lean times.

On April 28, Howard and Bev Schweighart of Champaign will see their 65th anniversary.

Bev recalls, laughing all the while, the surprise she found one morning after Howard had gone frogging. She opened the bathroom door to discover large frogs hopping all over the place. He had come home late and, instead of taking the time to clean them, had put the frogs in the bathtub.

After his service, Howard and Bev returned to Illinois and he was hired by what is currently known as Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative as a serviceman, and was superintendent of operations when he retired. They have five children – Tim, Alan, Cindy, Greg and Susie. Bev worked at Illinois Bell before they were married and returned to it when their oldest son was preparing for college.

Bev and Howard have a strong Catholic faith and made sure their children were brought up in the church. According to him, they never really had any serious arguments, have always practiced moderation and done things they enjoy. She enjoys working indoors while he likes to do landscaping and fishing. And, they never lost their love for dancing.

61 Years

Les and Loraine Cramer

Les and Loraine Cramer went to grade school together. Loraine is a year older than Les, and after grade school was sent up to the Chicago area to attend Concordia High School, a boarding school. After graduating, Loraine returned to Centralia to attend junior college and that’s when they became reacquainted. They went to a play for their first date on April 16, 1950.

After Les graduated high school, he went to Missouri for school and Loraine returned to Chicago for her third year of college. At that time, just three years of college was required to teach, and she was hired at a Christian school in Palatine. Meanwhile, a long distance relationship was developing. She would write a letter to Les every day, and she still has the letters.

Les transferred to Southern Illinois University (SIU) – Carbondale in the ROTC program. He had a draft exemption, but soon realized he didn’t want to make a career of the Army. He enlisted in 1953, and after basic training in Arkansas, went to Virginia for military drafting school.

Les and Loraine were married on August 15, 1954, a hot and humid day. She still enjoys talking about her three attendants, the reception and their honeymoon at various locations in the Ozarks. Afterwards, he returned to camp, and she continued teaching.

Loraine was teaching in Centralia when she found out she was pregnant with their first child. She finished her contract, their first son Bryce was born, and when he was two months old, she moved down to Lawton, Okla., where Les was stationed. When his commitment to the Army was completed, Loraine received an offer to teach at a Lutheran school in Murphysboro, so they returned to southern Illinois.

Les returned to SIU to pursue a degree in design technology and worked in the SIU print shop earning $2 an hour. Financially, they had rough times when first married, but say they were never to the point of not considering themselves fortunate. “We always knew where our next meal was coming from,” says Loraine.

The couple built their home, where they still live today, from the ground up. They cleared the wooded land, cutting down trees with a two-man hand saw and homesteaded the property themselves. They built the basement first and moved into it in 1961 when Bryce was five and his brother, Bryan, was a baby. A neighbor later helped them build the upper level.

They always kiss each other good night.

Over the years, Les received three job offers in large cities, but they stayed where they were. “All of our decisions have been based on what was the best for our family, our relationship with our friends, and our church. We debated and decided we weren’t moving,” he says.

Les was superintendent of the SIU print shop for seven years and eventually accepted a friend’s offer to move over to producing publications for the university. He retired from SIU in 1990. Loraine taught in private and public schools for almost 25 years.

Life hasn’t always been easy, but they have been able to get through it all with the help of their strong faith and daily devotions. “We were brought up in a church where marriage is a sacred pledge you make,” says Les. “That’s been the theme throughout our lives – it all comes down to faith. It has always carried us through.”

A common thread of faith, trust and love runs through all of these stories. Whether married 40 years, or just contemplating marriage, these are lessons from which we can all learn.