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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Couples who have shared decades of love renew vows

Georgia Fuller, second from right, asks Ben Fuller to remarry her  on Valentine’s Day at Touchmark on the South Hill. Ron and Nancy Rector are at left, with Garrett Schoen officiating. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Georgia Fuller, second from right, asks Ben Fuller to remarry her on Valentine’s Day at Touchmark on the South Hill. Ron and Nancy Rector are at left, with Garrett Schoen officiating. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

When Georgia Fuller stood in front of an audience including her family – hand in hand with her husband, Ben – she said something she’d wanted to say for years.

“I think it’s time I manned up and proposed,” she said. “Ben Fuller, will you marry me?”

Her husband of almost 52 years said yes, and the couple renewed their vows along with 22 other residents of the Touchmark senior living community in a Valentine’s Day ceremony.

Georgia Fuller first met her husband soon after moving out of the college dorms and into her first apartment during her junior year. He and a friend stopped by her door to ask to borrow a cup of sugar. The two have been together since they were 19, married when they were 21 and have three children.

The Fullers weren’t the only couple at Friday’s ceremony to meet in college and weren’t the longest-married couple at the ceremony.

The first time Earl Barlow saw Arlene, she was eating breakfast in the Montana State Normal School’s dining hall. He and his friend asked if he could join her and her friend, and they’ve been “having breakfast ever since,” Earl Barlow said. The couple met when they were 18 and 19, and Earl Barlow said he’s always admired her compassion and her openness, which was apparent the day they met.

“She was very friendly, she was the type of person that I just wanted to know more,” he said.

Montana State Normal School has since been renamed University of Montana Western, the couple have been married 72 years and both are now 91. Most of their life was spent in Montana and they moved to Spokane in the 1990s. Earl and Arlene have six children, 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Earl Barlow said he first thought the secret to a long marriage was compromise, but after marrying Arlene he realized having open, honest conversations with her and everyone in their family made the difference.

“From Day 1, Arlene was so kind, so caring and we seemed to share a lot of interests,” he said. “If we didn’t, we talked about them and discovered that we had much more in common than we did separately.”

Arlene said the secret to most relationships is a positive attitude, praise and always treating each other with respect – all traits she has tried to instill in her family.

“If you’ve always got a good attitude, are cheerful and positive, you’ll make it, you really will make it,” she said.

The ceremony was a chance for several couples living at the senior community to renew their vows in front of their children and friends.

Jen Crutcher, life enrichment director at Touchmark, said she was inspired to organize the ceremony by her own parents, who proposed a second time later in life. Crutcher said she admired the respect her own parents showed each other throughout their marriage and the long-lasting love she’s seen from many of the couples around Touchmark.

“You have been the best role models, and you will continue to be the best role models for everyone here including myself,” she said.

Several of the couples who renewed their vows Friday met later in life or had a previous marriage, including Linda and Rich Cannon, who renewed their vows after 22 years, and Nancy and Ron Rector.

When Nancy Rector’s friend suggested she go on a blind date with Ron, she initially wasn’t interested. She called her mother and told her about the date and her mother joked it was just one dinner, not marriage. They’ve been married for 52 years and have seven children between them.

Nancy Rector wore the same dress during the ceremony that she wore on her wedding day.

Both Rectors say the key to a long marriage is patience and respect. Ron Rector said he called his wife as often as he could when he traveled for work, and eventually they were able to travel together. Both said the best part of their decades of marriage is getting to do all of those things together.

“We’ve had a great time,” Nancy Rector said.

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