By Elaine Stevens //
Staying married is hard work, probably more so now than ever before. Marrying the right person the first time around can be a gamble, a toss of the dice. It’s been said that the key to staying married is simply deciding not to get divorced. Is that why our parents’ generation made it to their golden years together, and we boomers are on our third or fourth marriages? Do we in this era not have the stick-to-itive-ness that Mom and Dad had to keep the romance going? I was privileged to get the answers to these and more questions from a prominent South Mississippi couple who have created a template for marital commitment. It all began with a phone call in January 1953.
June: “Hello …”
Ted: “Hi, June. This is Ted.”
June: “Oh, hello.”
Ted: “Listen, I was wondering … nothing is happening next weekend at Mississippi State. How would you like to get married?”
And that was the marriage proposal that launched the 62-year-old union of June Ruffin and Ted Hearn of Laurel, Mississippi. She was 18; he was 20. By the time of the proposal, they had been dating for five years.
“Our first date was when June was going into the ninth grade, and I was going to the 11th grade,” says Ted lovingly. “…and I wore a yellow Angora sweater that nearly ruined his navy blue blazer,” adds June. Then Ted explains, “…but all we did was dance.” “Well, of course,” says June with a sly grin. Even in conversation they continue their familiar dance. “By the way, I was the second girl he asked,” June laughs. With a slight stammer Ted attempts to complete the story, “…but it was the right thing to happen, because I would have never stayed with the other one.” June quickly retorts with a verbal pirouette, as if it were yesterday. “…because she wouldn’t go out with you.” Ted spins his partner with a romantic response, “It would have been just a date; this is forever.” And so, the first waltz of conversation concludes.
The Hearns married — eloped — January 10, 1953. “We have an elope gene in our family,” says Ted, explaining that three of the four siblings eloped and have stayed married. Just hearing the logistics of how June and Ted achieved their matrimonial feat is exhausting. Ted didn’t have a car, so on the weekend of the scheduled “I do,” Ted hitchhiked from Mississippi State to Laurel. But not before he “borrowed the ring from the jeweler” where he had it on layaway, paying a little at a time on the half carat by working three part-time jobs on campus. After riding with a truck driver who tried to talk Ted out of getting married, he and June — after dodging parents and friends — managed to get a friend to take them to Collins.
“I put the ring on her finger, then we spent the night at The Resort in Stafford Springs, and I told her the next morning, ‘June, I have to take the ring back until I finish paying for it.’ ” Then Ted hitchhiked back to State. The couple planned to have a church wedding in December. However, the best laid plans of mice and men… as they say.
“We kept it a secret from January until September of 1953,” says June. Meanwhile, June traveled to State for all the special events and dances. And Ted continued to borrow the ring and then take it back when June left campus. Finally the day of reckoning arrived, along with someone else. “I was a little pregnant when we told our parents.” June giggles girlishly. Ted chimes in, “After six weeks of ROTC camp, I came home for one night, July 4, 1953, and we got pregnant. We had an April Fool’s baby in 1954!” That also happened to be Ted’s mother’s birthday. June finally got to keep the ring!
Judy was the first of three children born to the Hearns; Jenny and Russell soon followed. The small college apartment, walking to the store, and a $12-a-week grocery bill gave way to larger homes, successful retail businesses, prestigious positions in South Mississippi, Ted’s post as brigadier general (now retired), grandchildren and great-grandchildren — and finally, Ted and June’s most treasured vocations as humanitarians.
Active in Trinity United Methodist Church, Feed My Sheep, and the Salvation Army, the Hearns both say they couldn’t have come this far without a solid commitment to God and to one another. Through illness and hurricanes, they have managed to keep romance alive. Known as June Bug (“My 81-year-old teenager,” says Ted) and Doo (“Sometimes Doo-doo if he makes me mad,” says June), the vibrant couple still play tennis every week and still dance beautifully together, having won trophies for their terpsichorean achievements. “It works best when you are able to love each other no-holds barred, love each other all out,” Ted says with conviction.
Would they do anything differently? After 62 years, Ted admits to June, “I wouldn’t call you on the telephone and ask you to marry me, but I was under pressure — I had to get you off the market really fast!”
WORDS FROM HALLMARK CARD TED GAVE TO JUNE THIS YEAR ON THEIR ANNIVERSARY.
“Hold on to me, and I will hold on to you through anything and everything life brings our way. Bring me your worries and I’ll listen with my heart. Tell me what you need and I’ll do my best to give it to you. Love me even when it isn’t easy, and I promise to do the same for you. After all, isn’t that what love, true love, is all about.”