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Gulf Coast Village residents renew vows

By Staff | Jun 12, 2015

Nine couples, married for a combined 550 years, decided one wedding wasn’t enough. So, years and even decades later, they did it all over again.

Complete with a wedding march, music, champagne and cake, Gulf Coast Village, the continuing care retirement community at 1333 Santa Barbara Blvd. hosted a wedding vow renewal ceremony for its long-married residents in the auditorium.

Among those getting hitched again was a couple in their mid-90’s celebrating 72 years (and two months) of marriage.

Pastor Tom Hafer, director of spiritual services at Gulf Coast Village, officiated the event and was amazed by their commitment to each other.

“The story is so powerful now in today’s world where you have 420 employees watch how a successful marriage works and get to see it in action,” Hafer said. “This is how it looks to be dedicated to each other.”

The 15-minute ceremony was very touching and tongue-in-cheek at the same time. The grooms waited by the stage as the brides marched into the auditorium.

Plastic rings were passed out; glowing 20-carat sparklers for the women, and more conventional plastic ones for the men.

Hafer recited the vows, with the couples only having to say “I do,” before he gave the grooms permission to kiss their brides again.

Of the nine couples, seven had been married for at least 58 years. George and Lois Rezner were the leaders of the pack, with 72 years of married bliss.

“We’re counting by months now,” laughed Lois, 91, who met George, 96, just before World War II. “I would see him playing tennis and we started playing and had a good time,” Lois said. “One day he asked if he could take me to the movies, and that’s how it started.”

They married in the spring of 1943, and although the ceremony was great, many of George’s friends were overseas in the service, leaving them short on groomsmen.

All these years later, George, who later became an engineer for IBM, knew the secret of how they stayed married in the face of so much change.

“The Lord blesses you. It truly was a blessing,” George said. “It was a different world back then.”

“Today’s young people live a life we don’t understand. We tell our kids we don’t need any more fancy phones or e-mail. When Christmas comes we get i-Pads and other technical stuff. We have no idea,” Lois said.

Don and Lola Gronewold, married for a mere 58 years, met when Don got the phone numbers of two nurses who lived in the Chicago area.

“I got their phone numbers and the one who answered I was going to invite out. Lola answered first,” Don said, who added, “The secret to staying together is to say ‘Yes, dear.'”

Like the Rezners, the Gronewolds have counted their blessings.

“We’ve been really blessed with three daughters and eight grandkids. Our family is doing well and life has been good,” Don said.

Marriage was old hat for Bert and Marlene DiDonato, who got married twice in one day in Moracco more than 60 years ago.

“The civil ceremony was what was legal because we were at a French Protectorate. It was French at the time,” Marlene said. “My dad and he were in the same squadron in the Air Force.”

They were to meet at the Air Force base, but Bert was in the hospital with food poisoning. Instead, they met at a horse race in a small Moraccan town near Casablanca.

It wasn’t easy, they were shot at while in their car and the area was filled with terrorists, they said. They even witnessed a bicycle bomb across the street kill six people.

“We had to live in base housing for six months before going back to the states,” Marlene said.

Despite this rocky beginning, the marriage has lasted because of the people they are. Bert went to night school for more than 10 years while raising five children.

“She’s a wonderful person. So patient,” Bert said.