An annual August anniversary assembly

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These seven couples from Living Hope Church in Henderson, Neb., were all married in August and get together for a meal annually to celebrate. In early June, the group gathered to take a photo and enjoy a big cookie together. The candles on the cookie represent the couples’ combined 413 years of marriage. Standing (from left): John and Helen Quiring, John and Charlene Goertzen, Pat and Marv Buller, Karla and Chuck Block, Judy and LeRoy Dick. Seated (from left): Walt and Elsie Goertzen, Nelda and Virg Thiessen. Photo: Judy Dick.

When seven couples from Living Hope Church in Henderson, Nebraska, get together for an anniversary dinner the first Thursday of August, they will carry on a 60-year tradition.

Each couple was married in August, and they will celebrate a combined 413 years of marriage, a testament to family and friendship.

A popular wedding month

The party’s origins date back to the early to mid-1960s and stems from a conversation between Nelda Thiessen and a friend at the county fair.

Virg and Nelda Thiessen were married Aug. 25, 1956 and in 2024 are celebrating 68 years of marriage.

“It was a matter of conversation: ‘It’s our August anniversary. Maybe some of us should get together,’” says Thiessen, who with husband, Virg, will celebrate 68 years of marriage in August. “I assume that’s what it was because it’s been so long ago.”

They invited anyone at Living Hope Church with an August anniversary to attend.

August, it turns out, is a popular wedding month in a farming community like Henderson. Most of the seven couples farm(ed) or come from farming families and chose August either as a slower month in the farming calendar or, for those in education, a time before school started.

“At the beginning, there were quite a few couples that (had) August anniversaries,” Thiessen says. “But quite a few of those have passed away or they’ve moved away.”

Over the years, 40-some people have been a part of the group.

This year, LeRoy and Judy Dick, married Aug. 7, 1964, will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary.

Luke Haidle, lead pastor at Living Hope since 2013, says having so many long marriages in the congregation has provided stability.

“In our culture and society, healthy marriage, and long marriages, are becoming increasingly rare,” Haidle says. “I moved into a church and community and years later discovered that it was a relationship diamond mine. What a blessing from the Lord and a testament to the locals. Solid marriages make for solid families, and solid families make for stable churches and communities.”

Good food and fellowship

Each year, two couples plan the party, which involves eating supper at a restaurant and sometimes includes games or entertainment. For example, the couples may challenge themselves to identify photos of license plates or front doors or play Bible games. Sometimes they bring their wedding photos to share.

“It’s a good time of fellowship, caring for one another, sharing with each other, laughing together (and) telling stories,” Nelda says. “Just an enjoyable time.”

Walt and Elsie Goertzen were married Aug. 12, 1955 and are celebrating 69 years in 2024.

The couples agree that good food and not having to cook is a highlight.

Elsie Goertzen recalls that for a young farmer’s wife, eating out was a luxury, and the celebration provided Christian fellowship. She and her husband, Walt, are also original members and longest married at 69 years.

“(For) a lot of us, about the only time we could get together and have a little social time was at these meetings,” Elsie says. “I got a new dress every time.”

The group was always open to new people with August anniversaries, which is something Marv and Pat Buller, married 57 years, appreciate.

Marv and Pat Buller, married Aug. 20, 1967, are celebrating 57 years this summer.

“Moving here from South Dakota (and) coming to a new church, being invited to the August anniversaries as young people really helped us get to know church people, young and old couples,” Pat says. “For a low-income young couple, we didn’t go out to eat very often. So, this was always a treat to get a babysitter and have a date.”

As children came along, the couples got babysitters for their anniversary dinner out. The dinner expanded with new couples but also shrank as members died, moved or divorced. Through the years, some couples have attended the same Sunday school.

Many, like Charlene Goertzen, say the mix of ages in the group over the years has been special. She and her husband, John, will celebrate 57 years this year.

“It was fun to see the joys of newly marrieds and some of the questions or challenges that they had and some of the challenges that older couples were facing,” Charlene says.

John and Helen Quiring were married Aug. 15, 1970.

Helen Quiring agrees.

“We’ve gotten to know a lot of people in a special way, older people especially,” says Helen, who with her husband, John, will celebrate 54 years this year. “Now of course, we’re the older people. Our group now has gotten a lot smaller, but it’s still good. It’s something you look forward to.”

For many years, Chuck and Karla Block have been the group’s youngest members, married 48 years this year.

“We all age together,” Chuck says.

At 48 years, Chuck and Karla Block, married Aug. 27, 1976, are the youngest anniversary couple.

“We’re looking for recruits,” Karla adds. “When anybody new comes to church, one of my first questions is when is your anniversary? I make sure our calendar is empty that day so that we can be a part of it.”

Today’s anniversary friends have 22 children, 48 grandchildren and 37 great-grandchildren.

“Each year, we get older and our kids grow and before we know it, they get married, and then we become grandparents and then we become great grandparents,” Nelda Thiessen says. Her husband, Virg, adds: “The conversation changes.”

On Aug. 1, the seven couples plan to have dinner at Chances R restaurant in York. They make special note of anniversaries ending in 0 or 5, and this year will recognize LeRoy and Judy Dick, who are celebrating 60 years of marriage.

“We have a good time together,” Judy says. “It’s worth celebrating. God’s been good to us. We appreciate that. As long as somebody’s willing to be in charge, we’ll do it.”

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