This article is the second in an occasional online series profiling couples who have been married for at least 35 years. As sociologist Mark Regnerus writes, "Young adults want to know that it's possible for two fellow believers to stay happy together for a lifetime, and they need to hear how the generations preceding them did it." It is also important to see that marriages are not always happy all the time, but commitment is crucial.
DALLAS—On Easter Sunday 1944, Navy midshipman Tom Werkema visited a church in Grand Rapids, Mich. He slid into the pew and bumped into Jane, a young woman wearing a large Sunday hat. "Excuse me," he said.
Werkema parlayed the chance encounter into a conversation, then a date, and then a 65-years-and-counting marriage. "She was an attractive lady—and still is," he said.
Tom and Jane, now 87 and 86 respectively, witnessed a baptism that first Sunday and have not stopped since: The Werkema clan has swelled to 47 with the birth of their 11th great-grandchild in June.
Tom said the keys to making marriage last a lifetime are to "pray a lot and don't forget to forgive. None of us is perfect."
When talking about marriage and family, the Werkemas speak frequently of the role of prayer, because "a problem dissolves when it's taken before the throne," said Jane. Tom leaned forward with a sly grin and added, "And making up is fun."
In a family where divorce "just doesn't happen," the Werkemas cite their son's divorce as the hardest trial they have endured. Again, prayer got them through it.
In their own marriage, when a conversation grows heated, they take a break before the disagreement gets serious. They believe it's the hard work of marriage that makes it so rewarding. "Without question, over the years it's gotten better," Tom said.
The Werkemas said their best advice for young couples is to make faith and family priorities above career ambitions. For example, Tom left his engineering job of 33 years with Dow Chemical Company so the two could go on the mission field in the Philippines. Since 1979, they've been working in various capacities for Wycliffe Bible Translators and are currently based in Dallas. But every Sunday, they still sing together in the church choir.
See also "Staying the course: For 37 years Rick and Linda Taylor have persevered to honor the vows they took before God," by Anne Reiner, Aug. 8.