FALLS CHURCH, Va. (WDVM) — Goodwin House, a senior living and wellness community, is showcasing some of its residents’ wedding photos and wedding dresses for Valentine’s Day, thanks to Cultural Arts and Events Manager Elizabeth Whitehouse.
“I recently got married so wedding fever has been big and I just wanted to hear the love stories of all that live here,” said Whitehouse.
Whitehouse says the holidays can be a sad time for their older residents; at first she was concerned she wouldn’t get a lot of interest when she first published about the event in their newsletter.
To her surprise, the reception was more than positive. Whitehouse requested a wedding dress or two, in the off-chance a resident had kept theirs. She got more than 10. One of the dresses — a resident’s mother’s — is 100-years-old. “You could see the love that they had for their loved ones when they brought them in,” Whitehouse said.
Resident Ed Mott married his wife in 1958 at Christ Church in Alexandria. Their photo sits on a table that’s full of other residents’ photos. Ed and Priscilla met in high school after she moved to the area. It was the late Mrs. Mott who requested a meeting with Goodwin House’s Director of Life Enrichment (then-events manager) Tiffany Proctor and complained about the Valentine’s Day activity. She wanted more.
“She said, ‘You can do better. I leave it up to you,’ and I took that as a personal commitment to make Valentine’s Day happy.” Proctor says if she were to see this one, she’d be happy.
Jane McKeel has been a Goodwin House resident for over 10 years. She met her husband through a mutual friend (who also happened to be her college librarian). Wayne McKeel was working temporarily in her town and worked above the library. They were introduced after church and McKeel says she didn’t think Wayne was interested in her.
“He was cute, he had black hair,” McKeel said. “He talked about sports the whole time, football, which I had very little interest in. But I think he was kind of nervous.”
Mr. McKeel never got Mrs. McKeel into football. But they found a lot of interests together, including the church. They joined the Unitarian Universalist Church 10 years after they were married. “What motivated Wayne more than anything else was social justice. He could’ve been a minister in a way. He just had a strong empathy for other people. We had grown up in the segregated south and he just had such empathy for African Americans and the way they had been treated and that impressed me a lot because I had the same feelings but I didn’t articulate them as well as he did.”
They were married nearly 48 years before Wayne passed away.
“A lot of our residents, whether their loved ones are still alive or not, they’ve been married for 40, 50, 60 years and as an older adult community people might think, ‘You’ve been with your loved one for so many years you’re not going to be able to find another love,” Whitehouse said. “But through Marietta Tanner, we were able to see that love is still blossoming at any age.”
93-year-old Marietta Tanner met her husband at an opera event about two years ago. After a little over a year of dating, they married in Goodwin House’s ballroom. Tanner says she knew she had a good thing when she got sick and ended up in the hospital. “I’m very glad I’m married to him. He’s very thoughtful, very kind,” Tanner said. “One of the things that really made me think about him seriously was when I got sick and we had just started going out. He came every day to see me and met my son and all my friends. He was very attentive and I like that.”
McKeel says her husband loved her everyday. He didn’t like commercialized holidays like Valentine’s Day, but they gave each other valentines nonetheless. Her advice to a long, loving marriage is to have your own interests. “We stood back and supported each other and that’s how it needs to be. Nobody can possess another person. You just step back and support them,” McKeel said.
Mott’s advice? “Try to be nice to your wife.”
“We had 60 wonderful years together, up until the last six months,” Mott said. “There’s no real secret. You just, you get long with each other, you understand each other’s foibles, and you work around it.”
True to her go-getter attitude, Tanner says, “If you see somebody you really like, go after him! Because that’s what I did.”
Goodwin House has two locations in Northern Virginia: one in Alexandria and one in Bailey’s Crossroads.