So far, so good for Bob and Louise Yeck.
Married a few months before D-Day in a small Wisconsin farming town, the couple settled in Colesville in 1967. Bob Yeck, 91, worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Louise Yeck, 90, stayed at home to raise two sons, who begot three grandchildren. The Yecks welcomed their first great-grandchild a year and a half ago.
Through 68 years of sickness and health, for better, for worse, for richer and for poorer, Bob and Louise Yeck have had each other, a feat they celebrated Sunday at Colesville Presbyterian Church with 14 other couples. All have been married for at least 50 years. Many have been active church members for almost as long.
“It takes a lot of grace, a lot of forgiveness. It takes a lot of hanging in there,” the Rev. Caroline Wilson said. “When you are promising you are going to love that other person, that takes will.”
As the couple who has been married the longest, the Yecks sat at the end of a table in a downstairs meeting room. Louise Yeck showed off photos from her wedding day, Feb. 20, 1944. On the other side of the room were Jim and June Robinson, who with 50 years of marriage were relative newcomers.
They met at a bar in their native Greensburg, Pa., through a mutual friend.
“He’s eight years older than I am, but we work well together,” said June Robinson, 75. “He thinks more consciously about the future and what’s ahead. I think about what’s happening right now.”
A few chairs down were Bea and Clark Garner, who are approaching 56 years of marriage. They met in 1954 in the District at an orientation session for a foreign exchange program. They toured the Mall and walked up the Washington Monument, where Clark Garner said things really started to click.
He wrote to her from Ecuador. She was in Luxembourg and, eventually, he brought his family from Missouri to her Connecticut home town for the wedding. Bea Garner still has the newspaper story announcing the marriage.
“And we’d do it all over again,” Clark Garner said.
The Garners married without ever having lived with each other, one example of shifting marital norms.
“There are a number of these cultural changes over the last 50 years that these people didn’t have to worry about,” said the Rev. Robert Donk, executive director of the Marriage Resource Center of Frederick County.
Since the 1950s, the median age of first marriage has risen, according to a 2011 U.S. Census report, increasing from 23 to 28 for men and 20 to 26 for women. The percentage of never-married women age 25 to 29 nearly doubled to half of those studied.
Data from the National Center for Health Statistics show the divorce rate increased sharply in the 1970s, when divorce law became more lenient.
“It used to take two people to get in a marriage and two people to get out,” Donk said. “Now it takes just one person.”
The census report found divorce rates for most age groups have been dropping since 1996 by an average of five percentage points.
Church members Martha Burak and Stella Ndeh first proposed celebrating the Yecks’ lasting commitment in a Valentine’s Day-themed celebration around their anniversary. They reached out to four or five other longtime couples. Once word got out, they heard from 16 total couples.
There was a cake. The honorees wore pink corsages. Some reflected on how they first arrived at the church. Many fought in World War II, then came to the area to start families and jobs with the federal government. Each had a special history, much of it spent with his or her significant other.
Bea and Charlie Harris grew up a block from each other in Pittsburgh. Charlie, nicknamed “One Shot” by former mayor David Lawrence, was a famous photographer for the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the country’s leading black newspapers.
They moved to the area after he transferred to the District to work for the Internal Revenue Service. They married in October 1950.
“I’ve got every indication it’s gonna last,” he said.