montgomeryadvertiser.com*::* Tallassee couple celebrates life, love after 65 years
Tallassee couple celebrates life, love after 65 years
By Jenn Rowell
March 6, 2008
TALLASSEE -- She was in Connecticut on summer break from Tuskegee University when Nellie met S. Vernon Spears.
It was 1939, and they saw each other only occasionally before he joined the Army in 1942. It was shortly after that when she got the letter saying he was coming home in February 1943 and that he was going to marry her.
"I was in love," he said.
Sixty-five years later, he still is.
They're both 90 years old and live in Tallassee, on the same plot of land where Nellie Spears' childhood home stood, although it was burned down and later replaced.
To mark the occasion, staffers at the Faith and Grace Hospice, which is caring for Vernon Spears, helped organize a special night for the couple. The Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center was quick to chip in.
The hotel donated a complimentary dinner for any night Vernon Spears is feeling well enough to go out on the town.
"We certainly like to help people celebrate special occasions and certainly this one that is this momentous," said Walter Kennedy, the hotel's general manager. "We like to help people make memories of it."
Usually, the couple spends about a month on a cruise to celebrate their anniversary. Since Vernon Spears doesn't like to fly, they started cruising in 1963. They've been to Brazil, sailed down the Amazon River, partied in Rio during Carnivale, and they have a carving from Haiti on the coffee table in their living room.
It's a luxury that came from decades of hard work. Vernon Spears was a painter and decorator when he was drafted into the Army. He graduated from Hampton University in Virginia.
"He knows colors. That's why I could never get away with wearing just anything," Nellie Spears said. "I'd get dressed for school and he'd look at me and say, 'You're going to wear that?' and I would change."
While the couple was moving around with the Army, the pair lived in small apartments and lived on $21 a day. He worked in supply and left as a staff sergeant in 1946.
She was a teacher for more than three decades and was the first African-American teacher hired into a city school system in Connecticut. She spent 16 years in the classroom, earned a master's degree and worked in guidance for six years. Then she worked 10 more years as an administrator.
Looking at old pictures in their living room Wednesday, the couple reminisced about their days as newlyweds. Nellie Spears brought out pictures of her husband in his Army greens and he looked at them for awhile.
"I don't even recognize myself," he said. "It doesn't look like the same person."
They were both 25 when they got married. They passed on having a lavish ceremony.
In Feb. 10, 1943, a Wednesday, they traveled to Rockville, Md.On Thursday, they went to city hall to fill out the paperwork for a marriage license. But a new law had been instituted requiring a 48-hour waiting period, Nellie Spears said. The clerk looked at the clock and told the couple, "That's 12:15 p.m. on Saturday and this office closes promptly at 12."
The couple had planned to pick up their license on Saturday and get married on Sunday -- Valentine's Day.
But instead, they picked up their license Monday morning and started their lives as one on Feb. 15, 1943.
They've been living in the same house in Tallassee for more than 20 years, and long after their retirement, the couple remain active in their community.
Vernon Spears retired as chairman of the water board two weeks ago and the couple started a community improvement effort that's ongoing. He did most of the refurbishing to the school on Wall Street. It is a school that was left vacant after integration moved all the students to another school.
They've also created Ver-Nel Charitable Foundation Inc., which gives scholarships to outstanding local students who are in financial need.
The couple joked that they don't know anyone else who's been married 65 years and said they got it right.
"We weren't babies," Nellie Spears said of getting married at 25. "We should have known what we were doing."