The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

He broke off their engagement in 1963. Sixty years later, they tied the knot.

“Who does he think he is?” Priscilla Matheny thought when her ex-fiance reached out to her last year. “I don’t want anything to do with him.”

Ed Sneckenberger and Priscilla Matheny on their wedding day, Dec. 7, at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Hagerstown, Md. Pastor Ron Schlak married them. Sneckenberger called off their initial engagement in 1963, and 60 years later, they rekindled their romance. (Brian Green)
7 min

About a year ago, Priscilla Matheny got a Facebook friend request from Ed Sneckenberger — her first love, and former fiance. Without hesitation, Matheny, 83, hit “delete.”

“Who does he think he is?” Matheny recalled thinking to herself. “I don’t want anything to do with him.”

Sixty years prior, Sneckenberger called off their engagement in a letter to her. She hadn’t spoken to him since.

“He broke my heart,” said Matheny, who met Sneckenberger in 1959 at a local church in Hagerstown, Md., where they both grew up and where she still lives today.

Sneckenberger, now 85, proposed to Matheny three years after they met — and she enthusiastically said yes.

Shortly after, though, he reneged on his proposal. At the time, he was a student at West Virginia University — which is a few hours away from Hagerstown, where Matheny was working as a secretary. The couple committed to a long-distance relationship. Although they visited each other frequently, Sneckenberger soon realized that he was not ready for marriage.

“Everything seemed financially troublesome,” he said, explaining that he had worked for several years to save up for college, and could barely afford to cover tuition. He was afraid to start a life with someone else, he said, and “I didn’t think I had many choices.”

Matheny, meanwhile, was crushed. With vivid clarity, she remembers tearing open the letter, assuming it would be another sweet note from her betrothed. But after reading it alone in her bedroom, she turned into a puddle of tears, she said.

She burned the letter, sold her engagement ring and resolved to move on. Four months later, she met her soon-to-be husband, Wally Matheny, who was a widower with two young children when they met. They went on to have a son and a daughter together, followed by four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

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All the while, Matheny refrained from thinking about her first love, “maybe because it hurt so bad,” she said. In any case, “I was happy with my family and busy with my children.”

Sneckenberger, on the other hand, took longer to find love again. Following the breakup, “I was very hurt myself,” he said, explaining that he focused on academics rather than romance. He completed his bachelor’s degree and went on to earn a master’s and doctorate in mechanical engineering through a NASA program at West Virginia University — where he eventually taught for 36 years.

He did get married in 1968, to Scottie Hansbrough, who was an academic, too. She also taught at the university, and they had three children and five grandchildren.

“I was very blessed with my married life for 53 years,” Sneckenberger said.

When his wife died in October of 2021, he leaned on his two sisters for emotional support. They had nightly three-way phone calls. During one of them, his younger sister spontaneously said: “Remember Priscilla? She was a special lady.”

“I got to thinking about that,” Sneckenberger said. “I sent that letter to her, and I probably hurt her feelings more than I ever knew or wanted.”

He felt a sudden urge to find his long-ago love and apologize for the way things ended six decades ago. Tracking her down, he learned, would not be easy.

“I didn’t know how to find her. I didn’t know her married name,” Sneckenberger said.

Still, he was adamant about apologizing, and tried several avenues to find her. Eventually, he ended up on the Facebook page for St. Mark’s Lutheran Church — which is where they first met. He noticed that someone by the name of Priscilla Matheny was repeatedly engaging with posts, and “I wondered if that was the Priscilla Troxell that I knew.”

After a quick search online, Sneckenberger confirmed that the person commenting on the Facebook page was her. He excitedly sent her a friend request. She swiftly rejected it.

“It made me very angry,” said Matheny, whose husband died in 1986. After she denied his request, “he sent me two messages on Messenger, and I just ignored him.”

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Sneckenberger was undeterred. He decided to call the church’s administrative assistant and ask her to contact Matheny on his behalf and help arrange for them to meet.

“Tell him I don’t want to see him,” Matheny firmly instructed the administrative assistant.

When that plan failed, Sneckenberger continued to send messages on Facebook. Finally, Matheny answered.

“I thought the only way I’m going to get rid of this guy is to meet with him and find out what he wants,” Matheny said.

Sneckenberger drove from his home in Morgantown, W.Va., to Hagerstown to celebrate Easter, and on April 16 at about 11 a.m., he met Matheny at a Panera Bread restaurant. He started the conversation by apologizing profusely. Matheny said that after all these decades, she could accept his olive branch. They spent two hours chatting, and it felt “kind of like old times,” Matheny said.

Sneckenberger was smitten from the moment he saw her.

“It was just too much for my mind and my heart to handle that she was as beautiful as she was,” he said. “She’s every bit as beautiful now as she was then.”

Following their coffee date, Sneckenberger grew eager to revive their romance.

“The flame of young love blew up in me,” he said. “I became obsessed with this lady and the opportunity to do what I didn’t do 60 years before.”

Sneckenberger asked Matheny to meet him at the Easter Sunday service the following day, but she decided to stay home.

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Although she enjoyed catching up with him, “I just felt that things weren’t going to go well,” if they continued seeing each other. He wholeheartedly disagreed.

Following the service — which Matheny watched on her tablet in her living room — Sneckenberger showed up outside her home.

“I wasn’t going to leave Hagerstown without a chance to say hi to her again,” he said. “We spent the afternoon, and the flames just grew and grew and grew.”

“It was like we had picked up from our engagement day,” Matheny echoed.

In some ways, they had.

Sneckenberger asked her to marry him again that afternoon. While Matheny initially declined his proposal, in the months that followed, he did everything he could to win back her trust. He called daily and visited nearly every weekend.

After a few months of dating, “he wore me down,” Matheny joked.

“I could never have believed I would have lived this piece of my life,” Sneckenberger said. “To have her forgive me openly and willingly, it’s an incredible story.”

They tied the knot on Dec. 7 at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church — which holds a special place in both of their hearts, as it was part of their initial connection, and subsequent rekindling.

“It made my finding Priscilla possible,” said Sneckenberger, who moved to Hagerstown to live with his bride. “The church was a real important part of our reconnection.”

They decided to keep the ceremony small, with only the two of them and their pastor, Ron Schlak, who officiated the marriage.

“Their excitement was contagious,” Schlak said. “Everybody has challenges and trials every day, but look what can happen. Someone can walk into your life and make it all new again.”

So far, the newlyweds have been loving married life. Their revived relationship, they both said, has been an unexpected gift.

“We want our flame to burn and grow for the rest of our lives,” Sneckenberger said.