The cavernous ballroom The Resort in East Mesa

The cavernous ballroom at The Resort in East Mesa was filled last Tuesday by couples marking at least a half-century of marriage. 

Ann Christensen and Charlene Culver figured they would see a couple dozen couples at most sign up for a special luncheon to honor residents of The Resort who have been married more than 50 years.

But once the notice went out to the approximate 700 households in the 55-and-over mobile home park on Ellsworth Road in Mesa, they realized how badly they had miscalculated.

The RSVPs poured in, and 108 couples signed up for a luncheon in the community’s ballroom with a maximum capacity of only eight people more than that.

“I thought maybe no more than 30 or 35 couples would respond,” said Christensen, the community’s activities director.

Christensen thought it would be a nice pre-Valentine’s Day treat to honor couples who had been married that long, with the community’s activities fund picking up the tab. 

And so many of the long-term couples agreed with her that she had a waiting list on her hands for a while, though in the long run a few cancellations enabled her to accommodate everyone.

So, last Tuesday, 108 couples gathered for the lunch. Other residents volunteered to decorate the cavernous ballroom with red balloons and gold-colored centerpieces while Culver served as emcee for a brief but entertaining program that was climaxed by a performance by resident Chuck Kish, billed as The Classic Crooner.

The highlight of the program, though, was finding the couple who had been married the longest.

Culver asked everyone who had been married at least 55 years to stand, which left only a few couples in their seats.

Then she asked everyone who had celebrated their 56th anniversary to keep standing, and a few more couples took their seats.

The “count-up” continued until she got to 68 and no one was left standing. She went back to 67 and four couples stood up.

Now, she was down to months because she only had three heart-shaped boxes of chocolate for the “winners.”

The pairs who went to the altar in March, April and June were the lucky ones while a November bride and groom missed out on the candy.

With about 6,000 years of cumulative wedded bliss represented in the room, the couples – Len and Dorothy “Dottie” Barlow, Moe and Phyllis Moeller and Carl and LaVonne Neff – beamed like they probably did the day each were pronounced husband and wife.

Unlike the other two couples, the Neffs – originally from Minnesota and parents of five children – had not been high school sweethearts. 

He was a little older when she was in high school when they met through a mutual friend. A retired machine shop operator, Carl married LaVonne in April 1953 – giving them the second-longest marriage among the group.

The Moellers were high school sweethearts in Iowa, though their country schools were four miles apart.

Married in June 1953 after he too returned from an Army stint in Alaska during the Korean War, they raised three children on a family farm.

Moe had two jobs – farmer and rural mail carrier. “The mail job was the bigger one,” he said of a position he held for 40 years before retiring.

The Barlows, whose March wedding made them the longest-married couple at the luncheon, hail from Seattle, where Len had worked on the space shuttle program and he and Dottie raised three kids. 

He couldn’t help but note that the luncheon was being held on a day that carried a somber thought for him – the 34th anniversary of Shuttle Challenger explosion that killed seven crew members.

But that memory didn’t stop the Barlows or any other couple from having a memorable time.

Asked their secret to a long and happy life, their answers generally followed the same pattern: work together and share each other’s interests, though Len and Moe also stressed the need for husbands to pretty much let wives be the boss.

Christensen was happy with the way the event turned out, explaining,

“When you can find someone you can live with that long, you should celebrate.”

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