John Mark and Ada Elizabeth Mathes first fell in love when they were only teenagers in high school.
The two, who go by Mark and Liz, met at a movie theater they both worked at in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when they were 15 and 16, respectively, and they said it was almost instant. When he laid his eyes on her, from that point on, he knew he wanted to be with her.
They got married on Dec. 18, 1945 when they were 17 and 18, and he enlisted in the U.S. Navy shortly after. He was stationed overseas in Italy for two years until World War II ended and he was able to come home.
Mark was so happy to be home with Liz again they decided they would never leave each other’s side, and they have kept that promise with one another for more than 70 years.
Now, at 93 and 94 years old, they were forced to separate to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines at Cumming Health and Rehab where they moved from their previous home in Arkansas in September. He lives in the personal care side of the facility and she lives in the nursing home where she is able to receive more care.
They had been apart for four months, FaceTiming each other on iPads at every opportunity, when the staff at Cumming Health and Rehab decided to surprise them for their 75th anniversary.
On Friday morning, they brought Liz over to Mark’s room where they found roses, an anniversary banner and a huge steak lunch waiting. Most importantly, they found each other again.
“Bless her heart, she just started crying when she saw him,” said Activities Director Debbie Swanson.
The staff at the nursing home had been working for days to plan the lunch and lift regulations within the facilities to at least give them a chance to see each other in person. In the end, not only were they able to plan a lunch for them, but they plan for Liz to stay in Mark’s room with him for the next 10 days so that they can spend Christmas together.
Their son, John Mathes, said that he sent one of the staff members a text beforehand just to let them know his parents’ anniversary was coming up, in the hopes they might be able to have some sort of socially-distanced celebration. He never expected they would go to such lengths to make it happen.
“Everybody is over the moon,” John said. “We’re all on cloud nine because we just had no idea this was coming together. It’s such a surprise.”
Mark and Liz were elated just to sit and talk in person, reaching across the table and holding hands for the first time in at least four months. That was how they spent the day together. Talking, laughing and soaking up those moments together.
They both reflected on that day they first met at the movie theater in Tulsa, him remembering how beautiful she looked and she remembering his wool coat with a huge carnation in the front pocket.
When asked how they have been able to stay together for so long, Mark said they have always gotten along with each other. He admitted that many couples end up questioning their decision to be together in the first couple of years together, but he was overseas in Italy during that time.
“We didn’t have that to go through,” Mark said. “I came out of the service, and I was so happy to be out and so happy to be back with her. We just seemed to get along. That doesn’t mean that we’ve spent 75 years without a tussle or two, but we’ve always been able to work it out.”
Other than that, Liz said they have just always been devoted to each other.
Going forward, the staff members at Cumming Health and Rehab have made sure that Liz will be taken care of while she’s staying in Mark’s room, making plans for her nurses to visit the other side of the building to care for her.
Everyone is simply excited to see them get to spend some time together before they have to separate again later this month.
“I’ll tell you this is just great, just to talk to her and hold her hand,” Mark said.
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