First Things First will host its fifth Celebrate Marriage seminar for couples who want to create a healthy marriage. It's designed for couples who are married, engaged or seriously dating.
Relationship expert and author Michael Smalley will give practical tips to reconnect and strengthen relationships.
The workshop is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 1, at Brainerd United Methodist Church, 4315 Brainerd Road. Admission is free, but preregistration is required since lunch will be served. Register online at firstthings.org or call 423-267-5383.
Flowers and candy will be popular symbols of love today. But the marriage ring represents true love for four couples whose love has spanned decades.
Grant and Rebecca Harris, Robert and Virginia Rayburn, Dick and Marty Landis and Van and Emma Robinson have been together more than two-thirds of their adult lives. With marriage track records ranging from 56 to 68 years, their fidelity exemplifies the "in it for the long haul" commitment of the Greatest Generation, something they undertook from jobs to marriage.
"It's interesting because, when you talk with younger couples, they really wonder 'Are we capable of doing that?'" says Julie Baumgardner, president and CEO of First Things First, a family advocacy group in Chattanooga.
"The definition of 'extended,' to them, is 20 years, and they think that's a long time," says Baumgardner, who writes a relationship column for the Times Free Press.
We asked these couples their secrets to lasting marriage.
ROBERT AND VIRGINIA RAYBURN
When asked by an activities director during a cruise to give advice to young couples aboard, Robert Rayburn had this tip: "Well, go out once a week and do something you really like to do -- take in a movie or a nice dinner ... One of you go out Thursday, and the other on Friday."
Married: 68 years.
Ages: He is 89, she is 85.
Family: Three sons, six grandchildren, five great-grandchildren. They still live in their own home, and he drives himself to work each day.
Occupations: "We were married when I was 17, so I had to finish my last year of high school, then he and I both went to McKenzie Business School," Virginia says. She was a secretary for six years. He worked for General Oil Co. for 36 years then started Chattanooga Heat and Air.
How they met: "We met in elementary school (the former Chatata Valley) in Cleveland, Tenn., but it was not love at first sight. I thought he was a smart aleck," she laughs. Their paths crossed again when she was 16. "He had just come home from serving in the Navy during World War II. We met at a church function. Back then, all fun things revolved around the church," she explains.
First date: "We walked home from church together. He asked, 'The moon is shining bright, can I see you home tonight?' I thought it was dumb, but it got it done."
Proposal: He walked her home from a church function and, as they reached her house, he stopped in the yard and asked if she would marry him.
"During the proposal, a shooting star went straight over my house. I thought it was a good omen," Virginia says. On their anniversary last year, Robert wrote her a poem recalling that night.
Secret to a long marriage: "We give each other their own space. He does his thing and I do mine, and then we have things we like to do together," she says. "Don't smother each other. Respect each other. I firmly believe once a couple loses respect, they don't care what the other person thinks about them," Robert adds.
How they spend time: He likes to watch football; she reads. They both like to paint -- he in acrylics, she in oils -- and examples of their artwork hang in their home.
Favorite Valentine's memory: "He gave me a gold locket that was inscribed, 'To my valentine,' a long time ago. I still have it. He also writes me a lot of poems, lovely poetry."
THE REV. GRANT AND REBECCA HARRIS
On their first date, Grant Harris took Rebecca fishing. But she'd already hooked him. The night he proposed, he told her that the Lord spoke to him the night they met and said she would be his wife.
Married: 56 years.
Ages: He is 83, she is 82.
Family: Two daughters, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. The Harrises still live in their own home and still drive.
Occupations: She was a public school teacher for 40 years. He preached for 60 years then retired and is now assistant to the pastor of Second Baptist Church.
How they met: At a church revival in 1954; he was preaching, she sang in the choir. As the service let out, they noticed each other and made polite conversation. Grant later told Rebecca that he had been set up by a friend for a blind date after that night's service, but he was so taken by her, that he never made it to the friend's house.
First date: "Fishing is one of his hobbies, and he took me fishing. I do not love fishing, but I wanted to go to be with him. I sat on the bank and watched," Rebecca says.
Proposal: "He drove me up to Point Park on Lookout Mountain. He told me how he felt, and said the Lord told him I was going to be his wife the night we met."
Secret to a long marriage: "First, love each other deeply. Try to be honest with each other always; trust each other. Be courteous to each other -- the night Grant met me, he opened the car door for me, and he has done so ever since. Be considerate of the other's needs."
How they spend time: He goes fishing and hunting in season. She loves to read, sing and bowl. "I love helping people, visiting the sick and other senior citizens. I like cooking dinners for senior friends," Rebecca says.
Favorite Valentine's memory: "On any card he gives me, or any present, he always signs it 'Your lover boy.'"
DICK AND MARTY LANDIS
Chasing a ball "accidentally" kicked to the girl's side of the playground at Highland Park Grammar School, second-grader Dick Landis picked it up at Marty's feet and exclaimed, "When I grow up, I'm gonna marry you." He was a man of his word.
Married: 67 years on Feb. 21.
Ages: He is 88, she is 89.
Family: Four children, seven grandchildren.
Occupations: He was employed by Provident Life and Accident Insurance Co. for 43 years. She taught in public and private schools for eight years followed by two years of private tutoring.
How they met: "We met in the principal's office in second grade," Marty recalls. A letter had been found and turned into the office that was written by Dick's sister to a relation of Marty's. The principal wanted to know which student had unknowingly dropped the letter (Dick) instead of mailing it.
The two became friends, saw each other every week at church and by junior high had become a couple. They continued to date while he was a student at Central High School and she attended Chattanooga High.
First date: A church Halloween costume party when they were in sixth grade; she was dressed as Martha Washington and he was supposed to be George.
"An older boy drove Dick to my house that night. When I came down the walkway, I didn't see him anywhere. Suddenly he popped up from behind the hedge dressed all in red as the devil. And he won a prize for best costume," Marty laughs.
Proposal: They prefer to keep this private.
Secret to a long marriage: "It's important to be committed to each other," Marty says. "There is always some kind of change in the relationship, especially when children come along, so you learn to make adjustments. Sometimes goals will come easily, sometimes they won't, but at least you'll have learned something from it. It's not all popcorn and Cokes."
How they spend time: She is an artist who works in acrylics.
Favorite Valentine's memory: It just might have occurred during this interview when Dick told his wife "he was still as much in love with her today as when he saw her in second grade."
VAN AND EMMA ROBINSON
Van Robinson says neither he nor his wife are very talkative, which made for some quiet dates. But he still managed to express his love loudly enough that she accepted his proposal in 1951.
Married: 61 years.
Ages: He is 86, she is 85.
Family: Four children, one of whom is deceased; eight grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren.
Occupations: The couple lived in Youngstown, Ohio, before moving to Chattanooga. He worked for a steel company for 37 years, she worked at Youngstown Hospital for 30 years.
How they met: At a sorority party in 1950.
First date: Two weeks later, he took her out to dinner and a movie. "She had a nice personality, a big smile. She didn't talk very much, and I didn't talk very much," says Van.
Proposal: He proposed mid-1951. They dated two years before marrying in 1952.
Secret to a long marriage: "It's the secret of give-and-take," he says. "One time, it's 50-20; another time it might be 90-10. You have to take responsibility for yourself."
Favorite Valentine's memory: Since he proposed marriage near Valentine's Day in 1951, he said they've always marked the occasion with either a party or dinner out.
Contact Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...