BY MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Art Walton married a schoolgirl named Edwardine in 1950, after setting his cap for her and finally meeting her at an outdoor movie in Kingsley. He was 19, she was 16.
“He kept showing up wherever I was,” said Edwardine Walton, whose goal was reach the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary in 2000.
Elsie Benson married a young man named Robert in 1958, after meeting him at the Michigan State University union grill in East Lansing. Both were 20.
“When I walked out the door I said to my girlfriend, who was also my roommate, ‘Lorraine, that’s the man I’m going to marry,’” said Benson, who wore her sister’s Chantilly lace wedding gown at the ceremony.
The friends are among 12 couples who celebrated their wedding anniversaries Thursday at the Traverse City Golf & Country Club. All are neighbors at the Crown Golf Club, where “qualified” couples join in marking their anniversaries jointly every year. Together they represent more than 667 years of marriage.
The joint celebration grew from a 2008 Christmas-in-July party the Bensons threw for their neighbors. At the last minute, the couple found themselves celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary when their children turned the party into a surprise golden anniversary celebration in their honor.
Now, regardless of their actual anniversary date, they and neighboring couples who have been married 50 years or more meet at a restaurant one night a year to celebrate their common achievement.
“We have neighbors who haven’t been married 50 years. They keep saying they’re going to crash, but we tell them there’s a stipulation: you have to be married for 50 years, so you have to hang on for a few more years,” said Benson, whose real anniversary is Aug. 23.
The 286-acre residential golf community is unusually close, with men’s and women’s golf leagues, a Labor Day potluck, ladies’ luncheons and Saturday morning coffee klatches called “Cup and a Buck.”
“I’ve never lived in a community like this,” Benson said. “When one is hurt the whole community seems to hurt. We bond together as a community to try to help one another out. It’s very, very unusual. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t get along.”
Of 14 eligible couples, the Waltons have been married the longest, with 63 years together. The couple say the key to their longevity is simple.
“I think it’s probably you’re honest with each other. You got to have trust,” said Art Walton, who first saw Edwardine when she was walking to school and fell for her then and there.
“You have to compromise and work at it a little bit, but it’s been a good trip,” said Edwardine Walton.
The Bensons have been married for 55 years, but their relationship got off to an inauspicious start. Robert was dating a young woman who lived on the same floor as Elsie in a dormitory. That’s when Elsie spotted him. Once the pair even double-dated with their different partners.
“Lorraine and I would look out over the second-floor lobby window and see him take Myrna home after a coffee date,” said Elsie Benson. “Our first date was a dance at MSU. He would not pick me up on East Mayo (Residence) Hall, because he was still befriending this girl. I had to meet him in the (tunnel) connecting East and West Mayo.”
Now, Benson said, “I wouldn’t trade him for the world.”
Benson said the Crown couples celebrated their anniversaries at Mulligan’s, a restaurant on their own golf course, when the group was smaller. Other celebrations took place at Minerva’s and Scott’s Harbor Grill. This time around it was back to a golf course, only one with an unfamiliar view.
Janet Larrabee, food and beverage manager at the Traverse City Golf & Country Club, said Tuesday that the couples’ private party was expected to take place in the dining room overlooking the lush greens and rolling fairways of the course less than five miles away.
“This will probably be a fun change,” Larrabee said.
Couples celebrate 667 years of marriage