Sitting in their comfortable 7th floor apartment in The Fountains at Orlando Lutheran Towers, they recalled that Sunday 70 years ago when they were married at 6 p.m. in the Orlando Air Force Base chapel.
“I was stationed in Fort Myers in 1943 and after the ceremony we took a Greyhound Bus to Lake Worth for our honeymoon,” Neil chuckled. “During the war years, many people did not have cars. It was a really cold day…I remember seeing water towers with icicles hanging from them.”
Neil was born in Danielsville, Georgia on Nov. 18, 1920 – number 10 of 12 children, although two of his siblings died as infants. Gladys was born January 10, 1923 in Mineral Wells, Texas, and was seven when her parents moved to Florida. She was one of six children and one of her three brothers was lost in World War II.
Their paths came together in the fall of 1940 shortly after Neil’s unit was moved from Montgomery, Alabama to Orlando. He went into the Kress Store on Orange Avenue and saw Gladys who was running the candy counter.
“She was a pretty girl and we just kind of clicked, I guess,” he said.
“I told my father I had met a nice young man who did not smoke or drink,” Gladys said. “My father said ‘and, he’s in the military?’ I said ‘yes’ but he didn’t much believe me until he became acquainted with Neil.”
During the war Neil served in the Philippines and New Guinea. Their first daughter was a year old when he was first deployed overseas. When their second child was four months old, he was sent to Guam. And then, with a four-year-old and a one-year-old, Gladys spent two weeks on rough seas traveling to join him. All these years later, her voice takes on a sound of wonder at the fact she actually did it and survived with her sanity intact.
Neil talked about his time in the service matter-of-factly and shrugs off any suggestion that it was dangerous work.
“Most of that flying was uneventful but there was one occasion we lost an engine and it happened to be one Thanksgiving when we were taking turkey and ham to an outpost on Saipan. We had to toss all that into the ocean to lighten the load,” Neil said. “We made it back (on one engine) and the fish enjoyed the turkey.”
Gladys worked in the buying office of the old Sears downtown store and then went to work for the Board of County Commissioners in the finance department of the courthouse.
She said, in raising their daughters, their primary focus was to ensure they got the kind of education neither of them had received and that they were able to support themselves. In that they were successful as their daughters are or have been a physical therapist, a dental hygienist, an attorney, and a special education teacher.
“We have four daughters, six grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren…that’s the fun part,” Gladys said.
His years in the Air Force doing airplane maintenance read like a travelogue: Montgomery, AL; Orlando and Fort Myers; the Philippines; New Guinea; Guam; North Carolina; Greenland; New Jersey.
After the Air Force, he went to work for the City of Orlando’s Aviation Department as supervisor at the Executive Airport before moving over to the Jetport, what is now Orlando International Airport. After leaving there, he worked for Hughes Supply before retiring a third time. At age 82 he had a double knee replacement – a decision he now shakes his head about.
“He doesn’t remember the first week after the surgery,” Gladys said. “He was out of it.”
There is no special secret to remaining happily married for 70 years they both agreed.
“We like the same things,” Neil said. “I don’t remember any occasion when I would have changed much.”
“You just have to have plain old determination to make it work,” Gladys said. “After you have children it’s a different thing altogether. You have to think of them almost more than yourself or your husband. It doesn’t seem like 70 years. I don’t know where all those years have gone.”
Gladys said the most difficult part about moving to The Fountains was leaving their home of 49 years.
“It was very hard to leave. In fact we came here and gave a deposit and then came and got our deposit back. Then we finally moved in and it’s home now. And, I think our girls are relieved that we are here,” she said.
Sitting next to each other, they correct the details of each others memories and laugh at some of their recollections. Neil proudly shows photos of their daughters and of Gladys from their early days together. He spends a lot of time going through their photos and collecting them in albums that reflect time periods. His next step is to actually start labeling them.
“It has not been easy but it’s been fun and it’s been wonderful and we’ve had so many friends. The only sad part is we’ve outlived most of our friends. There are very few couples left among them. We are unusual in that respect,” Gladys said.
But, in their eight years at The Fountains, they have made new friends and that – along with having each other – is a daily joy, they said.