“My one true love is looking at me,” said Hubert Pellman, 97, gazing across the table at his wife, Mildred, 98.
The couple was sitting in a room at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community eating cookies and drinking coffee. Today, the pair celebrates their 75th wedding anniversary.
Diamond anniversaries are rare. In 2005, the Chicago Tribune reported that only 1,000 couples in the United States had been married for 75 years or more.
The first date
The Pellmans met in 1936 while attending Eastern Mennonite University. Hubert was picking crabgrass out of a lawn on campus as part of a work-study program when he spotted Mildred, or Millie, walking with a group of girlfriends.
“I had my eye on her,” he said.
Coincidentally, when Mildred passed Hubert that day, a friend said to her, “That’s Hubert Pellman working in the lawn there. He’s a fine young man, and I hear that he’s going to ask somebody on a date. I hope she has sense enough to go with him.”
Hubert mustered up the courage to ask Mildred out, but she turned him down because she was busy. “I took it as an excuse to get out of saying yes,” Hubert said. But as it turned out, it wasn’t an excuse. Mildred wanted to go out with Hubert.
So with the help of their friends, Hubert and Mildred were set up to go on their first date. The couple drove to Natural Bridge with Hubert’s friend and his girlfriend, plus two chaperons. The pair walked around the bridge together and stopped to get ice cream.
“They asked what flavor, [Mildred] said chocolate, and I said chocolate, and I said to her, ‘We’re going to get along well together,'” Hubert said. The Pellmans eat chocolate ice cream every May 1 to commemorate their first date.
A brief break-up
But it wasn’t always smooth sailing for the duo. While still in their college years, Hubert and Mildred once broke up for three days. “I was a slow, slow snail,” he said. “I just wasn’t sure how this whole dating thing worked.”
Their correspondence was by letter because they had no telephone. During summer breaks, Mildred lived with her family in Lancaster County, Pa., while Hubert’s family lived in Snyder County, Pa. Mildred said she wasted no time responding to Hubert’s request to take him back.
“I was just glad he wanted to hear from me,” she said.
After the pair graduated, Hubert proposed. Hubert said his proposal to Mildred was “ordinary, with no fireworks.” “We had gone together so long, it was just understood that we would marry,” he said. The Pellmans tied the knot on June 11, 1941. Hubert was just 22 years old, and Mildred was 23.
The small wedding was held at Mildred’s parent’s farm in Lancaster County. Hubert was late. The ceremony was supposed to begin at 10 a.m., but the groom was nowhere in sight. “I thought I had sufficient time to get there, but on the way, I got the distinct feeling that I needed suspenders,” Hubert said, explaining that he turned back home because of his new, slightly baggy suit. “It killed her when it was getting to be 10 o’clock and I wasn’t there yet. In a few minutes though, I did appear.”
The pair honeymooned at Stone Harbor, N.J.
Mildred graduated from EMU in 1937 with a two-year degree in biblical studies. Hubert graduated a year later. Hubert then studied English at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania for two years where he received his bachelor’s degree. He earned his master’s from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., a year later. Hubert would not complete his doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania until 1958.
Hubert taught English at EMU for 39 years. He researched and wrote the university’s official 50-year history in the 1960s. He and his wife traveled to the West Coast for his first sabbatical at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif. The professor also taught in England for a semester abroad program as well as in Japan for another sabbatical.
When he wasn’t in the classroom, Hubert served as an associate pastor of Mt. Vernon Mennonite Church in Grottoes for 17 years. His wife was also active in the church.
The Pellmans raised two children: Don Pellman, born in 1943, and Carol Mishler, born in 1951. They have five grandchildren. The pair agreed that the secret to a long, happy marriage is patience and kindness.
“We never spoke harsh words to each other,” Hubert said. “To us, it was a matter of love. We loved each other too much.” Although they had their ups and downs like any other couple, the Pellmans said they always strived to work things out.
Mishler said her parents’ love served as an example for her and her husband, Robert. “They grew together instead of growing apart,” Mishler said. “They always kept pace with each other … [They] were always a really good team.”
The pair said they never thought they’d live to be almost 100. When Hubert was born, the doctors told his family he wouldn’t live more than a year. Hubert suffered from a stroke 20 months ago and now lives in a complete living care unit at VMRC. Mildred, who requires less care, lives in VMRC’s assisted living facility.
Although the couple are separated, they visit each other every day for coffee and cookies. The Pellmans plan to celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary today at VMRC with friends and family. Chocolate ice cream is on the menu.