Alphabetical order landed Rowland Bennett in the seat in front of Linda Brady in Mrs. Murphy's eighth-grade social studies class in Rochester, N.Y., in 1953.
"I remember turning around to talk to her a lot," he said. "She was a girl. She was pretty. She was a good conversationalist."
"We became friends," Linda said. "I invited him to join a citywide Christian youth group I belonged to."
They spent that summer riding their bikes from store to store, trying to sell ads in that youth group's camp songbook.
After high school, both attended Wheaton College in Illinois, where Linda majored in zoology and sang in the choir and Rowland studied literature and played in the band.
Following graduation, Linda married Jim, the older brother of a classmate. Rowland was a groomsman and also ushered Linda's mother to her seat. Linda and Jim moved to his hometown of West Chester and had daughters Lisa and the late Rebecca.
Rowland soon left for Malawi, Africa, where for two years he taught secondary-school English with the Peace Corps. He came home and married another Wheaton alum, Margaret. Rowland next earned a master's in library science from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and a degree in Christian education from Princeton Theological Seminary. He and Margaret raised their sons, Chad and Kyle, in Maplewood, N.J., where Rowland was library director until he retired in 2003.
About 30 years ago, Rowland and Margaret divorced.
In 1967, Linda's husband, Jim, was killed in an accident. Through Philadelphia's Wheaton alumni club, she met, and later married, Bill, who also had two children: Tammy and the late Kirk. Together, they had a daughter, Gwyneth.
The couple lived in Philadelphia, where Bill was a seminary professor and a church pastor, and then Drexel Hill. Linda and her family and Rowland and his often celebrated birthdays and other milestones together. Rowland also invited his friends to join his family for summer lectures at the Chautauqua Institution in Upstate New York. Bill preferred to spend his vacations traveling, so they always declined.
After Linda's children were grown, she took a sales job with ACTS Retirement Life Communities, from which she retired in 2011, the same year Bill died.
Rowland continued to invite his lifelong friend to Chautauqua. In 2013, she accepted. That week, "what had been a friendship blossomed into more," he said.
"I was sort of hit by a lightning bolt," said Linda.
Rowland had always admired her calm, mannerly ways and how open-minded she is about everything and everyone.
Linda said she started laughing with Rowland when they were 12, and they never stopped. They also share a love of literature and classical music.
So what was different about that week?
Linda can't really pin down a reason but says it doesn't really matter why. "Here, at what people think is the last quarter of life, that there should be a wonderful flowering of a romance . . ." she said.
She and Rowland are 74.
Rowland adds two confessions to this story: He had a secret crush on Linda when they were teenagers. And while he had dated in the years since his divorce, it had left him gun-shy and cautious. He did not expect to take vows again, but "with Linda, I feel like I know very deeply who she is. I feel very safe with Linda."
How does forever sound?
The couple and Rowland's sister and brother-in-law went back to Chautauqua last summer. But there were some weeks when it was just Rowland and Linda.
During a quiet moment on one such evening, Rowland looked over at her and asked, simply: "Will you marry me?"
"Yes," she said.
A couple of days later they were reading, and Rowland moved his eyes from his book to Linda's face. "We are an engaged couple, about to get married," he said, as if it had just sunk in.
It was so them
The morning of their wedding, the couple went to BJ's for their wedding cake, and Produce Junction for the roses, ferns, and baby's breath they turned into the bridal bouquet and boutonnieres, using instructions found online. They finished just in time to drive to the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Springfield, Delaware County, Linda's longtime church.
Before the ceremony, 32 family members gathered in the church hall for dinner.
Linda's brother Tom came from Rochester with big trays of lasagna he made, and everyone enjoyed them, salad made by a friend, and a chance to talk before the ceremony began.
The ceremony came from the Book of Common Prayer.
"For the prelude, we had two jaunty Christmas tunes, 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' and 'In the Bleak Mid-Winter.' Plus we had Bach, because we both love Bach," Linda said.
Rowland's brother-in-law James, a Rutgers religion professor, read the story of Adam and Eve.
Linda's grandson Justin played the guitar and sang a version of St. Paul's famous letter to the Corinthians about faith, hope, and love. Between each verse, Gina, Bill's former business partner, read the scripture.
Linda's granddaughter Trinity coined the term ring manager for herself, and great-granddaughter Samantha held Linda's bouquet during the vows.
About 80 people attended the ceremony and the reception that followed, also at the church hall, where cake, punch, coffee, and ice cream were served. Rowland is big on ice cream.
Justin's father, Darren, handled DJ duties, playing classics from the American songbook. "Since it was New Year's Eve and early enough, people made our wedding and the reception their first stop for the evening," Rowland said.
The couple stayed to help clean up the hall.
"It was fun to wake up and think, 'Today is our wedding day,' " Linda said. Saying her vows to Rowland, she thought to herself: "After all these years, here we are. What a hoot!"
Rowland felt the power of his vows as he said them. "Those phrases are very serious," he said. "My first marriage, it didn't last forever. But I intend for this to last forever, and that was deeply felt by me when I was saying the vows."
The kiss was pretty great too, he said.
A bargain: The church, already decorated with poinsettias and candles for Christmas, looked fantastic for free. The wedding flowers cost $9.25, plus florist tape and hat pins.
The splurge: Rowland likes gold, Linda prefers the white metals. So jeweler Robert Gerlach of Henry A. Gerlach Jewelers in Upper Darby designed rings of two white-gold bands united by a third yellow-gold band between them.
The couple spent their wedding night in Center City so they could wake up and watch the Mummers. They later drove to Florida and flew to California to visit friends and family, stopping in Washington on the way home so Rowland could do some lobbying for the Peace Corps.
Love: BEHIND THE SCENES
Officiant: The Rev. E. Edward Shiley, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, Springfield, Delaware County.
Venue: Episcopal Church of the Redeemer and the church's Mason Hall.
Photo: Elaine Brady, Andrew Brady and Justin Henney (the bride's sister-in-law, nephew and grandson).
Music: David Nelson, church organist at Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, and DJ and family member Darren J. Henney.
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