While newly married couples dream of happily ever after, some find a lifetime of bliss, as others fall apart under the strain of life’s struggles. Several East Alabama couples, who have been married 50 years or longer, share their thoughts and secrets of having a lasting, happy marriage.
Shirley and Henry Helmke
March 24, 1957
Shirley and Henry Helmke met while in college and dated for two years before getting married. “My first thoughts on having a long marriage,” says Shirley, “is that we knew each other and knew we were choosing the right person. Although our backgrounds were somewhat different we got along well and were always friends.”
While they were close to both families, their married years were lived away due to schools and jobs. They felt they could not run to their families to ask advice, so they had to depend on each other.
After building a home in Auburn and having a family of four children, they tried to follow a few rules or ideas. “Foremost,” says Shirley, “we made an effort to sit down together everyday for breakfast and dinner. We tried to be consistent about giving our children answers to their requests and any directions to them.”
Birthdays and holidays were always made to be important. Each person was celebrated on his or her birthday, and they tried to make Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter special. “Now that we have grandchildren,” says Shirley, “we continue to do that. Keeping the family close seems to make us all happy.
“During the years of our children growing up,” adds Shirley, “we tried to have what we called ‘quiet time’ where the two of us could visit and be together at the end of the day. We always discussed large fiscal expenditures. We enjoyed traveling and continue to share the hobby of garden railroading. However, we encourage each other to have individual interests.
“We have had some medical challenges as we aged,” she says, “as well as some with our adult children. While we could always count on each other, we know that friends’ prayers, church and our faith in God helped us so much in getting through life’s trials.”
Patty and Bill Martin
March 28, 1948
In Loving Memory of Bill Martin
Patty Martin says they could probably write a book on “what not to do to have a long and happy marriage,” which is why she believes the ability to forgive and learn from your mistakes is important.
“Marriage is no longer just about me,” she says. “Marriage is a commitment, and it is about us. While there will always be disappointments and trials, when they are faced together, they become easier to overcome.”
“Always be truthful and trust one another,” Bill adds. “Find a common interest you can share with one another and with friends. Respect the other’s different interests even though they are not your passion.”
Patty relates that it is important never to allow anger, resentment and disagreements to take root, and they should be left at the bedside at night. They have a rule never to go to bed without a hug. They feel it is almost impossible to hug someone when you are angry with them.
“That special hug is a favorite parts of my day,” Patty adds. “It is a reminder of that handsome young man I fell in love with and married almost 70 years ago. It makes me thankful that he is still here to share my life. Thanks to God. Each new day is a gift and a new day to start over.
“Happiness does not come from another person. Remember it is not your spouse’s responsibility to make you happy.”
A few of their favorite Bible verses concerning love and a happy marriage are James 1:19, which says, “Be slow to speak, quick to listen and slow to become angry,” as well as 1 Corinthians, chapters 4-6.
Veleria and Rev. Hugh Turner
Aug. 13, 1965
Veleria and Hugh Turner started dating in 1961 when they were in high school and have been together since then. Hugh enlisted in the Army when he was 18 years old. He came home to marry Veleria a year later, about two weeks before he went to the Republic of South Vietnam.
While Hugh was in Vietnam, they wrote letters to each other everyday. At the end of a one year tour he had over 300 letters from Veleria.
While he served in the Army for seven years they lived in several places, including Mannheim, Germany. Depending on where he was stationed and working after being discharged, Hugh attended colleges as well as Rushing Spring School of Theology and Montgomery Bible Institute where he obtained a BA in pastoral ministry. Veleria attended Alex City Community College.
After Hugh retired from the Southern Company and Veleria from Southtrust Bank, they moved from Sylacauga to Auburn in 2002. Hugh became the Minister of Evangelism and Outreach at Greater Peace Baptist Church in Opelika.
Rev. Turner contributes being Christians as the main reason for having a long lasting marriage. “It is important to have the love of God in your heart to build a solid relationship,” he says. “That played a big part in our long lasting marriage.
“Without being a Christian, it would have been very difficult to get rid of selfishness and other things that cause conflicts. Being Christians played a big role in helping us learn how to deal with disagreements and selfishness.”
Veleria adds, “A lot of our marriage success can be attributed to our parents and families’ leadership and guidance. We knew it was important to have a good relationship and to communicate better. After we accepted Christ as our savior, we attended several marriage seminars. “Because of good communication, we are each other’s best friend.”
Sally Ann and Peter Doyle
August 13, 1955
Sally Ann was a student at Mary Washington College, and Peter was attending Washington Lee University when they met while performing in a summer play in Williamsburg, VA.
Sally Ann had been taking ballet since she was 3 years old and was going to New York with a promising career as a ballet dancer. “I promised her a better deal for better or worse, and she accepted,” says Peter. They were married after his first year in seminary.
Over the years, the Doyles lived in many places, including Switzerland, where he worked on his doctorate. Peter, who is also an author, served as pastor of several churches in his career, including Trinity Presbyterian in Opelika.
“As Christians,” says Peter, “we sought from the beginning to follow God’s directions given in the Bible. For us this has been a 62 year learning experience, and we are still learning.
“We learn from God’s written word that a husband is to love his wife and children, provide, protect and govern the home. This includes listening, cherishing and understanding his wife and helping her blossom.”
“God’s work says the wife is to respect and obey her husband,” says Sally Ann, “and to be his completion and helper. Her career is her husband and children.”
They both believe essential applications of God’s commands encourage the following: constant forgiveness, gratitude daily, respect for each other, lightheartedness, admission of own faults, constant striving to understand each other amid the differences as men and women, and encouraging each other’s interests and hobbies.
The Doyles’ thoughts include cultivating health and physical fitness, as well as encouraging each other’s spiritual gifts in God’s service.
“By no means have we been perfect in following God’s word,” says Peter, “but His word has been our guide in keeping our marriage happy.”
Claire and Ira Silberman
Sept. 7, 1958
“How amazing it is to think that we are nearing our 60th wedding anniversary,” says Claire. “I look at my husband today and think how lucky I am to have married this man. I wonder how I knew at that tender age that he would be such a dedicated partner to me and a wonderful example for our sons.
“To me,” she adds, “marriage is like a roller coaster. It has so many ups and downs and twists and turns, but if you hold on to each other tight enough, the ride will be memorable.”
To Ira, marriage is commitment and is always a work-in-progress. “It started with an attraction to her looks, personality and sparkle,” he says, “and it grew into wanting to be together always.
“Through the years, you learn how to blend your personalities by accepting your differences and respecting your partner for whom they are.
“It’s blowing past the little things,” Ira says, “and working through the big ones because when all is said and done that’s who you want to be with tomorrow. It’s being there for one another. And, it’s appreciating and respecting what each has given to building our life and family together — as we have done.”
An award winning journalist, Ann Cipperly has been writing features, as well as food, travel and restaurant articles for East Alabama Living since 2004. She is a former newspaper lifestyle and food editor and currently writes features and a food column for the Opelika Observer. Ann is a native Opelikan.