Valerie, a retired kindergarten teacher/travel agent from Wichita, Kansas, and Bruce, a retired IBM salesman/retired captain of the US Navy Reserves from Auburn, Alabama, met in September of 1967. They were both sophomores in college in Nashville—she at Peabody, he across the street at Vanderbilt. “Peabody mixers were mid-week get-togethers, and were free for Peabody students and 25 cents for others,” the couple recalls. One night after evening fraternity rush activities, Bruce and a friend decided to head across 21st Avenue to attend, where he asked Valerie to dance. They chatted for a while before Bruce walked her home, and that was it, they say, for about 18 months.
Fast forward to spring break of their junior year, the pair crossed paths again towards the end of spring break in Daytona Beach, Florida—Valerie was driving along the beach and spotted Bruce throwing a football with his brothers. She yelled his name—a move they said was totally out of character (“the coincidence of seeing Bruce and the freedom of Spring Break must have converged”)—and after chatting for a bit, they agreed to meet up back in Nashville.
They dated for 27 months—most of that time “dating” by phone, they say, save for a handful of meet-ups in between, having gone their separate ways after graduation—until Bruce proposed in January 1971.
Following his first six-month stint in Navy school in Bainbridge, Maryland, Bruce had two weeks off before he had to get to the next school in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. He “took the long way” they say, and drive though Kansas City, Missouri to visit Valerie where she was teaching. Turned out to be a pretty epic visit, including a professional hockey game, a live performance of the musical Hair, and a proposal. Newly engaged, Bruce continued on to Connecticut and the couple kept up their regular phone calls—getting together once at her family’s home in Florida and another time Nashville, to buy Valerie an engagement ring—while planning their August 21, 1971 wedding with 85 guests at the fellowship hall of Hillside Christian Church in North Kansas City, Missouri.
The Anniversary Celebration
On August 21, 2021, the couple, who currently live in Marietta Georgia, traveled to DC to join their families for a celebration of 50 years of marriage at the Willard Hotel.
Joined by 11 guests, including their children and grandchildren, the couple renewed their vows, and toasted to five marital decades with a Champagne reception in a hotel suite.
“We are proud of our 50 years together,” the couple says of the decision to throw an anniversary celebration. “Not everyone gets to celebrate a 50 year marriage or the good fortune to have been together for 50 years and we wanted to celebrate that fact.”
The celebration included “flowers everywhere!” says Valerie, including a bouquet for her and flower crowns for their flower girls, and a pink and white theme that matched the palette they chose 50 years ago as well. Valerie’s favorite detail was celebrating the past 50 years with Bruce, including the family they’d created. His, he says, was the flower girls and their distribution of petals. “My five and three-year old granddaughters were perfect!”
The couple say they splurged on staying in a suite at the Willard, and having hair and makeup professionals. For dessert to go along with their champagne, they chose small chocolate cakes
Their best piece of marriage advice? “Talk things over, be each other’s friend.”
And their best advice for wedding planning? “Have someone else do it!”