July 22, 2002
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Ceremony celebrates couple's milestone

Sunday, July 21, 2002

Nancy and Robert Cornell will finally have their church wedding, 50 years after the couple first said "I do.''

They married back in '52. He was strong, and she was a looker.

Nancy and Robert Cornell now live in a retirement community, fussing at -- and over -- each other.

Their apartment is tidy but the walls are too small to hold photos of all 11 children, 37 grandkids and 14 great-grandkids.

A box of insulin syringes -- hers -- is on the counter. He's still frisky and likely would chase her around the sofa were his inhaler any stronger.

They met 50 years ago this weekend at a fish fry in her small Indiana town and got hitched 10 days later at the Baptist preacher's house.

"Oh, my God, Nancy!'' her mother wailed. "You've haven't known him well enough.''

But Nancy Jane chose well.

"Ours was one of those 'Until death do you part' kind of deals,'' she said.

Robert finished his hitch at a nearby Army base, gassed up his '34 Chevy and drove his gal home to Columbus. She loved the big city.

He took a job at a bakery. Weekends, he earned extra money at a concrete company.

Nights, they held each other and felt rich. Rich with love. Rich with babies. Rich with faith.

Robert taught his trade to the boys. All eight grew up to be concrete finishers. The girls learned some, too, but mostly they remember giggling as Dad made his hula-girl tattoo wiggle by flexing his biceps.

Now he is 82, and she is 79. Surgeons have patched up both their hearts, and love keeps them beating.

This couple has endured.

They still grieve about twins miscarried in 1958. But their others grew up fine. The family made do in a three-bedroom house across from Columbus Steel Drum, where Robert worked.

Nancy heard the boom the day the plant exploded in 1963.

"Lord,'' she prayed, "please don't let Robert be in there.'' Nancy found him at the hospital, burned but alive.

In 1971, they managed to buy a little house. Faulty wiring sparked a fire. They lost everything and struggled.

The Cornells weren't much for accepting charity.

"Mom never used the food pantries. She'd say, 'Those are for people worse off than we are,' '' son Bill Cornell recalled. "I don't know how they did it, but Mom and Dad always seemed to have enough to go around.''

Enough money. Enough love.

"Mom and Dad would pile us kids on top of each other in the back of the Pontiac and we'd go to the drive-in,'' Bill said. "We saw all those good movies Momma loved -- Night of the Living Dead, Frankenstein and Godzilla.

"And they always bought us kids a bucket of popcorn.''

Friday nights were for square dances and fish frys. Sundays were for church.

But now Momma and Pappy, as they call each other, are getting on in years. The kids -- Robert, Deborah, Michael, David, Charles, Lance, Mary, Donnas, Bill, Herb and Matt -- got together in January for a hard, but practical meeting. It was time to arrange funerals.

"It's not something we wanted to think about,'' oldest daughter Deborah Travis said. "But after we got done, I said, 'OK, now what about their wedding?' ''

The couple's 50th anniversary falls on Aug. 1, and Nancy always longed to wear a gown and repeat her vows.

So the kids reserved a church, booked an American Legion hall for a reception and held garage sales to cover expenses.

On Aug. 3, family and friends will gather. Three great-grandchildren will walk down the aisle, holding the long, lace train, sprinkling rose petals and carrying rings.

A friend is baking the cake, a three-tiered affair. Another has made up silk bouquets. The girls are still trying to find someone to style hair and apply makeup, but Nancy's gown is finished. Last week, her girls got together to sew.

"Oh, honey, it's gorgeous,'' Nancy said. "It's got a high neck and layers and layers of lace. There's tiny white bows and sequins down the front, and a big bow over my fanny.''

She will be a beautiful bride. They will cut the cake, wiggle off the garter and throw the bouquet. Then they will dance to Everlasting Love.

Robert will need his walker. And Nancy has had hip-replacement surgery. But after 50 years, they've still got the groove.

Barbara Carmen is a Metro columnist. She can be reached at 614-461-8855 or by e-mail.

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