Until Death Do We Part, Really

Story: Kara Pound | Photography: Chris Redd

Forever love is not something that you see every day. If you think about it, how many couples do you know that have been together for more than 20 years? How about more than 40 or even 60 years? Chances are, not many.

The American Psychological Association reports that about 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce. And that rate is even higher for subsequent (second and third) marriages. So the odds of growing old with the same partner you married in your twenties or thirties are a bit bleak. But it’s not impossible.

We interviewed some of Ocala’s longest married spouses to find out their secrets to being a forever couple. From the Croskeys, who have been married for more than thirty years, to the Suttons, who are nearing their 70th wedding anniversary, being a forever couple takes patience, kindness and unconditional love.

Meet Bill and Jo Ann Sutton.

At 85 and 82, respectively, the Suttons have been married for more than 67 years. And it was love at first sight.

“She walked by my sister’s house where I was sitting on the porch,” Bill remembers of meeting Jo Ann in Memphis, Tenn. where they lived around the corner from each other. “She had on a red tie and I wanted to meet her and borrow that tie. I told my sister that day I was going to marry her.”

“From the first time I started going with him, he was everything that a boy should be,” says Jo Ann. “He treated me with love and respect and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

After courting Jo Ann, Bill proposed to her at the Luciann Theatre – the same place he’d taken her on their first date. They were married a short while after, on November 1, 1947, in the living room of a preacher’s house in a small town in Mississippi. The ceremony was “simple, but Christian,” as Jo Ann remembers. Bill was just 18 and Jo Ann 15.

Starting their new life together, the Suttons moved to Miami where Bill owned a Hess oil station for 35 years and Jo Ann raised the couple’s three kids and helped with the company’s bookwork. In 1983, they moved to Ocala to retire.

“The definition of love, to me, is a total commitment to the person you’re married to,” says Jo Ann. “Some people say it’s 50/50. No, it’s 100/100. You have to give a 100 percent of yourself and you always have to listen when they have something to say.”

As far as challenges, well, every married couple has them. For the Suttons, it came in the form of a lengthy illness for Jo Ann and Bill being mugged and shot while working at his gas station in Miami. But those were “circumstances” as Jo Ann puts it, and didn’t change the love they have for each other. If anything, it made them stronger.

Ask the Suttons individually, and they will both tell you that they don’t believe in divorce. There’s always a solution to a problem. “My husband is not one to argue and neither am I,” Jo Ann admits. “If you do argue or have something to discuss, never do it in front of your children. Do it in the privacy of your bedroom.”

Bill agrees. “Walk away from it until you calm down, then come back and talk about it,” he says of resolving conflict. “Just learn to say, ‘Yes, dear’ because she’s always right anyway. Never go to bed mad, but if you do, get un-mad before you go to sleep and tell your partner you love them.”

According to a recent article in Cosmopolitan titled, “20 Secrets of Couples Who Stay Together Forever,” some modern day advice includes love each other unconditionally, be spontaneous, treat your significant other’s family like your own and don’t make jokes at each other’s expense.

Sounds simple enough, right?

“I think some feel if marriage doesn’t make you happy, just take it back and get another one,” says Gale Amorginos, an Ocala resident who has been married to her husband Nick for over 43 years. “I feel that marriage is making someone else happy. Working through hard times and problems is the answer.”

The Amorginos met when Gale worked as Nick’s secretary at Silver Springs Shores land sales office. Gale remembers it fondly. “Nick came to Ocala to work and met me,” she says. “After dating a year, his sales job took him to Tampa. Being away from him, I realized I needed him to be my partner for life. I felt secure and confident when I was with him and trusted him to take care of me.”

Nick felt the same way. He called Gale and said he couldn’t live without her and asked her to move to Tampa, so that they could be together. She did and they were married on April 3, 1971 at First Baptist Church of Ocala.

“I believe in the old saying that ‘opposites attract,” says Gale. “My husband is Greek and I’m a southern-grown country girl. Nick is 16 years older than me and we have had to comprise many times on his likes and mine. Marriage is full of give and take and sometimes it’s not always equal.”

Over the years, the Amorginos raised two kids and ran a successful restaurant – working side-by-side, 24/7 for 35 years. And although they’ve faced obstacles (like having different ideas on how to run a business), their love for each other has prevailed.

“We both feel that if we had not been through the ups and downs we went through, our marriage would not be what it is today,” Gale explains. “Of course we could have made some better choices at times, but life is not about being perfect. It’s about learning from your mistakes.”

To cement their forever love, Nick asked Gale to renew their wedding vows on their 20th wedding anniversary. She accepted.

“He asked me to marry him again in the Greek Church in Tarpon Springs where he went growing up,” says Gale. “We had a Greek wedding and our son JT was his best man and our daughter Dianne was my maid of honor. It was a beautiful ceremony and very meaningful as our love had grown even more through the years.”

When it comes to advice, love and understanding tops Gale’s list. She also believes that patience, trust and communication will help a couple achieve “forever status.” “A true marriage (and true love) is never about you,” she says. “It’s about the person you love, their wants, their needs, their hopes and their dreams. If you can make them happy, your happiness is going to follow.”

Another Ocala couple with an impressive track record and plenty to say on the matter of marriage is Rodney and Lawana Croskey. The Croskeys have been married for 32 years. They were high school sweethearts – making eyes at each other in 1971 at Forest High School.

“Our first date was February 18, 1972. I needed a date to the Pearl’s Sweetheart Dance,” remembers Lawana. “Both our fathers worked for the city. Our mothers worked at Marion County McPherson School and were members of the same social club. I thought we would make the perfect couple and we would not have to deal with parent approval since our parents knew each other.”

After dating for more than a decade, the Croskeys were married on Saturday, September 19, 1981 at Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in Ocala with more than 200 guests attending.

“Remember the wedding is a day of fantasy, so don’t get too caught up in it,” Lawana says. “Marriage can be wonderful and full of new adventures, but you must put in the work. Once the wedding is over and life begins, you will have to work at keeping it alive. Don’t get married with the intention of changing each other. It takes compromising. Remember why you fell in love and what put that smile on your face.”

Over the years, the Croskeys have found many ways to keep their marriage strong. “We have always managed to talk things out. We give each other the space to digest the situation and not allow it to create a problem again,” says Lawana. Rodney agrees, “When we can talk, we talk it out. It has not always been easy but we have managed to do it and make it work.”

Meet another Ocala forever couple.

Roger and Marie Durbin have been married for more than 57 years. They met in their small hometown of Bardstown, Kentucky in 1956 and have been head-over-heels in love ever since.

“Back then, I really didn’t know what love was and most people didn’t have the most romantic relationships and courtships,” Marie says of her and Roger’s courtship. “I just knew that I didn’t want to be without him and it made me extremely sad when we were apart. To me, that seemed like love and it blossomed over the years.”

The Durbins were married on October 31, 1958 at the First Baptist Church in Bardstown, Kentucky. It was an informal wedding with Marie wearing a grey skirt suit and Roger in his “Sunday best.”

“All of Roger’s family was in attendance and none of my family came,” Marie explains. “My mother was against me getting married at all, but said that if it was something I wanted to do, she would sign for me to get married. Back in those times you had to be 21 to get married in Bardstown.”

Over the past nearly six decades, the Durbins have found that having six children has been the biggest challenge in their relationship. “We love our children very much and times it seems like we never had enough time for each other,” explains Marie. “Words of advice, if you are going to have children, prepare well for each one and never let that stop you from bonding with your spouse.”

According to Marie, there aren’t one or two things that make a couple stay together forever. It’s how you treat each other on a daily basis. “Don’t lie to one another or to yourself. Always be honest about your feelings, and if there are problems just make sure you get to the bottom of it before it causes too much damage.”

She continues, “We were always honest with one another about our feelings and we always tried to work together even when it was hard to do. There is no major secret, just have respect for the person you love and you can’t go wrong.”

According to Guinness World Records, the longest marriage on record belonged to North Carolina couple Herbert and Zelmyra Fisher, who were married for nearly 87 years before Herbert’s passing in 2011 – an impressive feat to say the least.

From open communication and unconditional love to patience, mutual respect and honesty, there are plenty of ways to build on a relationship and, ultimately, become a forever couple. American journalist and author Mignon McLaughlin once said, “A successful marriage requires falling in love may times, always with the same person.”

So when you’re feeling doubtful and your spouse is getting on that last nerve, remember the undying and wholehearted love of the Durbins, the Croskeys, the Amorginos and the Suttons. Marriage is about give and take and, when you really get down to it, you can’t imagine living a day without them.

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