Won’t you be mine for 50 years and more?

Area couples tell their secrets of keeping marriage strong as they celebrate their 50th Valentine’s Day together

By Josette Keelor

It was snowing when George Brinkley drove his young bride Joyce to Luray for their honeymoon. They took several wrong turns before arriving at The Cardinal Inn where they planned to stay a few days and tour the caverns and Skyline Drive before heading back to Farmville.

He remembered how she almost left him in the cold for planning a vacation in the snow, but as she thought back on five decades together, she admitted “we’ve been very blessed.”

He agreed. “Here it is 50 years later, and it’s snowing again.”

The Brinkleys, 71, of Woodstock wed on Feb. 9, 1964, and this weekend will celebrate Valentine’s Day along with other area couples remarking on what keeps marriages strong.

Bill and Nancy Stern of Winchester celebrated 50 years of marriage Aug. 31, 2013, and Strasburg residents Larry and Jane Miller will mark their 50th on Saturday with a party their children planned at the Church at Waterlick where Larry is pastor.

The Sterns’ first real date was to the junior prom at their school in Bedford, Pa. Their second date was the following year, at the senior prom.

The Millers met by accident, and five months later were married.

She was 15 and he was 20, and they met when she tried giving him her table at the Virginia Restaurant in Strasburg, because she and her friend were leaving. He misunderstood.

“I thought she said, ‘Come on and sit with us,'” Larry Miller said. And that was that. She even kept the nickel he gave her that September night.

Two months later, he gave her a sweetheart ring and on Christmas Eve he proposed. They were married Feb. 15, 1964. By coincidence, both of their sons also met and married their wives within five months’ time.

“Back then people said it’ll never work,” he said. “But here we are. We got to make it to Saturday.”

He remembered hearing the percentage of failed marriages is something like 50 percent, but “if God is not in a marriage, instead of 50 percent, it will probably go up to 80 percent.”

Marriage isn’t a 50/50 partnership, he said. It’s 100/100.

“That’s the only way that a marriage can make it,” he said, though admitting his own hasn’t been “a bed of roses. It’s been a challenge.”

Nancy Stern, whose big Valentine’s weekend plans will include her daughter-in-law’s baby shower on Saturday, called her 50-year marriage “a busy life,” filled with camping trips and long stints as Scout masters and district commissioners with the Boy Scouts of America.

Spending time with her husband and three sons has helped the marriage, but so has compromise.

“Be understanding, respectful to each other,” she said. “You have to have conversation and work toward same goals.”

“Don’t stay mad. Things will all work out,” she said. “A sense of humor helps too, big time.”

The Brinkleys are planning their anniversary party for April when they won’t have to worry about winter weather messing up their plans.

The Millers are planning a vow renewal at their post-blizzard open invitation celebration, from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, with a vacation later in the month, Larry said.

“We’re going to drive ’til we hit warm weather.”

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com