Mary Lynn Perney and William J. Ward
October 16, 2016, in Emmaus, Pa.
Bill came to Pottstown's Ballroom on High dance studio as a step toward restarting his life.
His vibrant shock of silver hair was a beacon to dance instructor Mary Lynn's eye.
"I fell in love with the way he walked into the room," she said. "He just made my heart jump."
It was 2012, and about 3½ years since Bill's wife, Joan, had died from a blood clot. They had been married 43 years. Bill, a retired bank accountant who grew up in Oxford Circle and graduated from Drexel University, cherished his role as father to Drew, Brian, and Kevin. He doted on his six grandchildren, the highlight of his days. When alone in his house in Macungie, Lehigh County, Bill felt unmoored. He liked to dance, and Ballroom on High offered lessons and a chance to use them with new friends every Sunday night.
Mary Lynn had never been one for moorings. She grew up in Aurora, Ohio, near Cleveland. She earned bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in education, and taught briefly in Colorado public schools before becoming a U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperative extension agent, first in Colorado, then in Virginia Beach. She has always been an artist, and in 1986, she left the USDA to travel the East Coast and sell her pen-and-ink and watercolor architectural pieces. Romance led her to settle in Norristown in 1996. That failed, but she thrived. Mary Lynn became a tax preparer and tax course instructor for H&R Block. She also met her dance partner, Biagio, and a decade ago, the two began teaching and hosting dances at Ballroom on High.
The more she danced with Bill, the more Mary Lynn, now 64, liked him. "He was intriguing -- quiet and reserved at first, but a real social animal when he gets to know you," she said. "He is a walking encyclopedia! From the first minute, it didn't matter what we talked about, he knew all the little nitty-gritty facts."
She simply adored him. He simply had no idea. He didn't consider such a thing a possibility.
"My premise was, at my age, nobody would be interested," said Bill, who is now 84.
But Bill enjoyed the dancing and the friendships blossoming around it, particularly the one with his vivacious instructor.
Every year after tax season, Mary Lynn takes an extended trip to Europe, and one day, Bill expressed his envy of her adventures and told her he was planning a trip of his own. It took a few months to get up the nerve, but Mary Lynn asked if he'd like to travel together. Trip planning meant more together time.
Bill remained clueless, but others caught on to Mary Lynn's interest in him, including another dancer, Al.
"You've got to kiss him!" Al advised.
"What?" said Mary Lynn. "I can't do that!"
Could, should, and better before someone else beat her to it, Al said.
Bill turned out to be an exceptional dancer. On Valentine's Day 2014, he helped Mary Lynn teach an Argentine tango lesson. Afterward, Mary Lynn followed Bill into the kitchen and handed him a Valentine: "I'm going out on a limb here, but do you ever think about having more romance in your life? With me?"
"Can I kiss you?" Mary Lynn asked when he looked up from the words. Bill kissed her his reply.
Needless to say, their trip to France and Italy was wonderful.
How does forever sound?
Their relationship grew fast and strong, punctuated by tangos in many cities, foreign and domestic. "She opened up to me a new way of life, a new way of seeing things," Bill said.
They began talking about marriage in earnest in fall 2015, when Bill's brother Pat, who had always been wonderfully healthy, was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. "It brought again to our attention the short time you have in life," Bill said.
That Christmas, after their other gifts were exchanged, Mary Lynn handed Bill one last box. "Inside was one of those plastic bubble rings that lights up and flashes different colors," Bill said.
"This is a ring," Mary Lynn told him. "Would you marry me?"
"Sure!" Bill said.
Pat was among the first people they told.
It was so them
The couple, who now live in Macungie, married at St. Ann's Church in Emmaus -- a full Sunday Mass with a wedding tucked in the middle. Bill and Mary Lynn walked down the aisle together. Mary Lynn's dance partner and the couple's dear friend Biagio was best man, and her friend Marie was matron of honor. Four of Bill's grandchildren, Kaylyn, Shane, Lucy, and Owen, also joined the couple at the altar as witnesses.
The reception was held at the Ballroom, using the tables, linens, music, and other items regularly employed for special dance events. Many students and other friends helped set up the space that morning.
The couple taught a waltz lesson on the spot, so that any of their 60 guests who weren't familiar could join in. The best man provided his own homemade wine as a wedding gift to the couple. The food was catered by Grumpy's Sandwiches, a local shop. Mary Lynn had spent the previous month making limoncello for favors and to share.
With all the preparation plus their usual busy life, the couple had no time to practice their first dance. No one was the wiser, Bill said. That was thanks to Bill, said Mary Lynn. "We did a medley of tango, swing, fox trot, and rumba, and he just led as the music changed from one to the other. He did a beautiful job."
As they exchanged wedding rings, "I had a very strong sense of calmness, and thankfulness, and appreciation for a new life and a companion who loves me," Bill said.
That moment is also Mary Lynn's favorite. "I felt such joy for being so loved," she said. "He is the first person who has fully embraced who I am."
The budget crunch
A bargain: Every Tuesday, the couple hit Impact Thrift for glassware – enough to serve water, wine, and limoncello to everyone. The glasses cost 50 cents each, and all went to good homes after the wedding.
The splurge: Because their usual month-ish in Europe was planned, the couple thought they should skip a honeymoon. Then they thought again, and spent six days in Montreal, where, yes, they tangoed.
BEHIND THE SCENES:
Officiant: The Rev. Dominic Thao Pham, Parochial Vicar, Church of St. Ann, Emmaus, Pa.
Venues: Church of St. Ann and Ballroom On High, Pottstown.
Food: Catered by Gene Dugan, chef and owner of Grumpy's Handcarved Sandwiches, Pottstown.
Photography: Family and friends took photos.
Flowers: Arranged by artists and friends of the couple Carolyn Utigard Thomas and Judy K Harrington. Purchased in bulk from Joseph Genuardi Florist Inc., Norristown.