Decades of love: Couple celebrates 74 years of marriage in COVID quarantine

It wasn't much, but quiet reflection seems to have worked well for Jim and Lorretta Raffensberger.

Decades of love: Couple celebrates 74 years of marriage in COVID quarantine

YORK, Pa. – Jim and Lorretta Raffensberger never really celebrated their wedding anniversary.

“They’re not party people,” their son, Mark, said.

Their family did throw them a party a few years back at the fire hall. And they got to ride in the parade marking the 150th anniversary of their hometown’s founding as the town’s longest-married couple.

Jim and Loretta Raffensberger celebrated their 74th wedding anniversary in lockdown at their nursing home. Their family joined the small party via Zoom.

But as years passed, they didn’t make a big deal about it. If anything, there might be a quiet acknowledgement of making it another year, Mark said.

This year, though, was different.

They had moved into an assisted living facility in January and since March, have been in isolation, like others in the home, a response to the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday, the home’s staff threw them a small party. Their family joined on Zoom.

It was low-key, which is kind of remarkable considering Monday, June 22, was their 74th anniversary.

Long friendship turns to love

Jim Raffensberger grew up on a farm south of Dallastown, down the hill from a village known back then as Red Town, so named for the P.H. Grove & Sons country store, painted barn red.

His father, Harvey, died when Jim, the youngest of five boys, was 6. Jim's mother, Rosa, kept the farm running as the nation, in the early 1930s, limped into the Great Depression. Jim went to a one-room country schoolhouse 2 miles away – Keener's School - and spent his time before and after school working in the fields of the 90-acre spread, plowing, planting and harvesting crops and tending to whatever other chores needed to be done. He finished 8th grade and continued to go to the school for two more years, not able to make the trip into the high school in town and maintain his schedule on the farm.

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Later in that difficult decade he worked for his brother, Emory, who took over the country store from the Groves, mostly listening to the local characters who hung out at the store and garage to spin tall tales.

Jim and Loretta Raffensberger marked 74 years of marriage in quarantine in their assisted living facility.

In the summer he would earn extra money picking strawberries at Jerome Flinchbaugh’s farm off Honey Valley Road, helping his family survive the economic calamity that had beset the nation.

He had met Loretta Ryer before – their families were friends, even though she lived in Dallastown, on South Pleasant Avenue – and he would see her at Flinchbaugh’s, also picking strawberries. She was one of eight children, her father working as a cabinet maker in town. Like Jim, she lost one of her parents when she was young; her mother passed away when she was 48 and her father raised the family, with the help of Loretta and her sisters.

“She was a little kid,” Jim said. “So was I.”

They struck up a friendship and as the years passed, the friendship developed into love. One of the hit songs at the time was Glenn Miller’s version of “Blueberry Hill,’ and Loretta’s sisters teased her by singing that she found her thrill in a strawberry field.

Loretta’s father was concerned, believing the relationship was getting too serious and in 1940, the summer before Loretta’s senior year in high school, he sent her to Long Green in Maryland to spend the summer with a cousin.

Jim and Loretta remained close, though.

In 1942, when World War II was raging, Jim went into the Army, serving with the Signal Corps, attached to the Air Force in England. Loretta, who graduated from high school in 1941, and went to work at the Blaw-Knox factory on Arsenal Road, a plant that would later become the Naval Ordnance Plant, and later, Harley-Davidson, building 40mm anti-aircraft guns. She was one of the women who people called “Rosie the Riveter,” her sister said.

Building a quiet life after the war

Jim came home after the end of the war and he and Loretta got back together.

James Daniel Raffensberger and Loretta Marguarite Ryer married on June 22, 1946, in the rectory of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Dallastown. Loretta’s younger sister, Helen, served as an attendant, and her brother, Paul, as best man. It was a small wedding and could not be held in the church sanctuary because Jim was not Catholic.

Jim and Loretta Raffensberger marriage certificate dated June 22, 1946.

They bought a house on East Maple Street, just off Main Street in Dallastown, and started a family. Jim went to work for the Leinhardt Brothers furniture store in York as a serviceman. He learned upholstery and became a skilled craftsman, eventually starting his own business in the garage behind his family’s home. He did upholstery work for furniture stores and clients throughout York County, and beyond. He had clients in Philadelphia, Boston and “all over the place,” Jim said.

Loretta kept his books and raised their four children, Mark, Michael, Stephan and Barbara. She’s a generous and caring woman, often finding time to help her neighbors, tending to the sick and delivering meals to those who were struggling in hard times. They were immersed in the community. Jim volunteered at the fire company’s bingo nights.

Jim was a hard-working man, his son recalled, toiling in the shop during the day and then, after dinner, he’d take a quick nap and upon awakening, would head back to the shop. He made sure all of his kids helped in the shop, learning something of the craft and the business, even though none of his children followed in his footsteps, something he never minded. They had to make their own lives, he believed.

Years passed. They lived quiet lives and raised their family. They had hard times. Their daughter Barbara contracted cancer and Loretta took care of her as the disease consumed her. Barbara died at 52.

They never did much to celebrate their anniversary, “just a quiet acknowledgement that they made it another year,” Mark said.

On Dallastown’s 150th anniversary in 2016, they were selected, as the town’s longest-married couple, to ride in the parade marking the occasion. They enjoyed it, their son said, but they were a little uncomfortable with all of the attention.

And on their 65th anniversary in 2011, their family threw them a big party at the fire hall, inviting all their old friends. They wouldn’t have done that on their own, Mark said. “But they enjoyed it,” Mark said, gathering the family and seeing old friends.

Quarantined together after all these years

This year, it was different.

Last December, Jim got sick and wound up in the hospital for a few days. He was released to rehab and when it was time to go home, it was clear that Loretta would be unable to care for him.

In January, Jim, now 98, and Loretta, now 97, moved from the home they had lived in for more than seven decades into The Haven at Springwood assisted living facility. After two weeks of quarantine, a preventative effort then to keep the flu out the home, they settled in.

Then, in March, the home went on lockdown, prohibiting visitors, among other things to prevent COVID-19 from entering the home. It has worked. The home has had no confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to its website.

Jim and Loretta were moved into adjacent rooms. They can visit each other and be together, but Loretta isn’t happy about it. She has called her sister, Helen Pigg, asking her “to get me out of this jail.” She misses her home, her son said.

On Monday, they had a small cake and sparkling cider, and the staff decorated the room with balloons and a bouquet of red roses. Their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren joined via Zoom. Their son said there were between 15 and 20 people on the call.

“They were happy to see everyone again, although Mom wished we could have been there in person,” Mark said.

“It’s different,” Jim said.

On how to keep a marriage alive and strong for more than seven decades,

Jim said there is no secret. It’s pretty simple.

“You just have to learn when to keep your mouth shut,” he said.

Columnist/reporter Mike Argento has been a Daily Record staffer since 1982. He can be reached at 717-771-2046 or at mike@ydr.com.

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2020/06/24/couple-celebrates-more-than-seven-decades-wedded-bliss-covid-quarantine/3249964001/

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