Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
Endless love 115 couples reaffirm vows at Masonic Village; most have been married 55 to 65 years
By CHAD UMBLE, Staff Writer
It may begin with some, but marriage is no piece of cake.
"We'd all be lying if we said there weren't any rough spots along the way," said Arlene Ditzler, who has been married to her husband, John, for 51 years.
The Ditzlers and 114 other married couples at Masonic Village in Elizabethtown attended a special service earlier this week to reaffirm their marriages and restate their vows.
The couples, most of whom have been married between 55 and 65 years, brought photos from their wedding days while getting new photos taken under a flowered arbor in the Brossman Ballroom of the Freemasons Cultural Center.
During the service and in interviews with some of the couples, marriage was described as a situation that brings great benefits, but also requires tolerance, patience and commitment.
With 71 years as husband and wife, Margie and Harold Hartdung had the longest marriage represented.
"If it hadn't been for the dang Depression, it'd probably have been longer," Harold said, explaining that the couple dated for seven years because they didn't have enough money to get married right away.
The Hartdungs lived most of their lives in Pittsburgh, where Harold worked for the post office. He said one key to a long, happy marriage was to manage the inevitable problems.
"We just never let them develop, and basically you never went to bed without clearing the air," he said.
His wife, Margie, who was having trouble with her hearing aids, couldn't hear the nice things Harold said to a reporter about being married to her.
"I just love everything about it. She's always been a gracious, giving person. I've tried to reciprocate," he said.
The 3 p.m. service -- for which everyone was seated and ready at 2:40 -- concluded with the husbands and wives standing and turning toward each other to read a "litany of affirmation." This ended with a repetition of the vow "to love and to cherish, until death do us part," and an invitation for husbands to "kiss the bride."
In his message on "Why Affirm Marriage?" Preston Van Duersen, the retirement community's director of pastoral care, said strong marriages are built on keeping romance alive and maintaining respect for each other.
"The person sitting beside you is the most important person in your life, and if we acted that way, perhaps we would be kinder and more attentive to one another," he told the gathered couples.
For Wally and Carolyn Wright, who have been married 61 years, being attentive to each other doesn't always mean doing everything together.
"You have to have your own interests -- separate interests -- but then you're interested in each other's projects," Carolyn said.
Ziegler Heilman called his wife of 61 years, Christine, "helpful" because she got him started on a teaching career that began at Fairview Elementary School -- a one-room schoolhouse outside of Quarryville -- continued with 20 years teaching biology at Montgomery County Community College and endures even now with a course on moral origins that he is volunteer teaching at Masonic Villages.
Ziegler also said "compromise" is a key to marriage, a response that his wife agreed with, somewhat.
"I don't know if compromise is the most important, but I know you have to do it," she said.
For Raymond Dahlheimer, it was "love at first" sight when he saw -- but didn't talk to -- Ruthanna on a Sunday night when he went to see a Western music band play in a meadow.
Later, when Raymond was set up on a blind date with Ruthanna, the couple began their long romance. Nearly seven decades later, Raymond says that he thinks that initial meeting was blessed.
"We always said that God put us together and seems like he has taken care of us for 68 years," he said. "We've been true to each other and still love each other."
A similar marriage affirmation service for 52 couples from the retirement community's personal care and nursing service areas is planned for Monday afternoon.