CLEVELAND, Tenn. (BNc) — Only 5 percent of married couples reach their golden anniversary and even fewer celebrate their diamond anniversary of 60 and 75 years, but Roy and Evelyn Barber are not your average couple.
The Cleveland pair celebrated 70 years of wedded bliss on Mar. 22 and are one of the few couples in America with a shot at becoming the longest-living married couple in the world.
Not that these two lovebirds are concerned about breaking records. Spending time together, laughing, and having fun seems to be enough of an achievement for the lively pair who met in 1940 and married eight months later in 1941.
The couple said they met at a church in Cleveland, although they had never seen each other there before. According to Evelyn, Roy was a “good-looking man with black, wavy hair.”
The moment Roy laid eyes on Evelyn he admits, “I wanted her.”
“We hit it off from the start,” he said.
“The guy was a friend of Roy’s and the girl and I were good friends and they introduced us,” Evelyn said. “It was a blind date I guess. It was at night and he walked me home from church. I didn’t live too far from there. He was a nice guy.”
“She swept me off my feet,” said Roy, who was serving in the Civilian Conservation Corps at the time. “I didn’t believe in wasting time,” he said with a laugh. “She had a good sense of humor and we’ve had a wonderful life ever since.”
“It’s had its ups and downs but it’s been pretty good,” Evelyn said, laughing.
According to the lighthearted couple, times were much harder in 1941, the year the United States became involved in World War II. But neither of them ever considered separating because of the struggles they faced.
“Roy was supposed to be drafted in 1942, but they gave him a deferral when I was expecting,” said Evelyn. “They gave him a deferment until after Nancy was born. After she was born he had to leave. She was about 6 weeks old.”
Before leaving, Roy, who would serve as a cook in the military, taught his wife how to cook, something they joke about to this day. When he returned from the war after three years, having served in the 8th Army Air Force, Roy and his family did not immediately return to church. As their family grew, however, Roy and Evelyn found themselves drawn to church once again.
“They started back in church when they started having kids,” said Nancy Duke, their oldest child. “I can still remember that.”
After Nancy’s birth came two more daughters, Joyce and Beverly, then the couple had a son, Gerald.
“We started going to Eastside Church of Christ. I don’t know why we started going over there,” Evelyn said. “That’s where we met this thing here (pointing to their minister Jeff Archey).” They laugh.
Evelyn said the secret to their long and happy relationship is “give and take.”
“We’ve been together all this time except when he was in the military,” she added. “When one goes somewhere the other goes with them. We just enjoy being together.”
According to Nancy, her parents did not use babysitters when they were small but took the kids everywhere, including on vacations.
“The main thing is that we stuck together from the beginning. We didn’t quit,” Roy interjected. “We made it the best we could. Life is not a bed of roses. A lot of people think it is. You’ve got to pick those roses and hold them. That’s what we did.
“We live with each other, for each other. I was in the Air Force working for Uncle Sam. I did what he wanted me to do. Then I took the rest of the time to join with her as much as I could. Life don’t come to you, you go to it. You have to fight for what you get. That’s life.”
Offering a piece of advice to younger couples, the 90-year-old senior said, “Make the best you can out of life. You can’t go along blaming somebody else for your life. You have to make your own life. That’s what we did. Sometimes life is hard to live. Sometimes you have to do things you hate to do. But you have to put one foot in front of the other and make out with what you’ve got.
“I don’t mean to be rude. I mean to be truthful. I live for her and she lives for me. She’s made me a wonderful wife. Life is something you have to live the best you can. I loved her and I was ready to die for her. That’s the way it is now. I still love her and I’m still ready to die for her.”
“That’s the way it is,” agreed Evelyn. “A lot of couples don’t try hard enough. You have to give and take.”
After listening to them express their undying love for each other, Nancy shared her personal observation of her parents after seven decades of devotion.
“In their 70 years together they’ve lost their individual identities,” she said. “One doesn’t function well without the other. That’s who they are. They’re like one person. It’s like he doesn’t exist without her and she doesn’t exist without him — they’re so interwoven.”
“The point is that our desire is to be together,” said the 90-year-old veteran who retired in 1987 as an engineer at Hardwick Stove (now Whirlpool) after 46 years.
“We haven’t seen the day that we wanted to quit. Even if we did have words we never did quit. We stayed together.”
The upbeat, undaunted couple said if they had to do the whole thing over again they would gladly do it.
On that note Archey took Roy by the hand and asked him, “Would you still take her for your wife?” Roy quickly replied, “You said it!”
Archie then took Evelyn by the hand and asked her, “Would you still take him for your husband?”
“Yes! I’m afraid so.” Evelyn said laughing.
“Alright! You’re still ‘took’ then!” Archey said, as he and the playful couple laughed.
Roy and Evelyn Barber have four children, six grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.
Reprinted with the kind permission from the Cleveland Daily Banner. See more photos of the Barbers at this link. Top photo by William Wright.