A respected elder of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, Elizabeth Thunder Bird Haile, 83, has always loved cultural dances and has striven to keep as many in her life as possible.That is why in 1952, when she walked into a small international folk dancing class in Schenectady, New York, and met Richard Haile, now 89—a South Carolina native who shared her love for international dances—she knew the two had a connection.
Now, 62 years, four children, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren later, the dynamic duo are still dancing together, and have been married for almost 57 years.
The pair had been scheduled to be part of a discussion at the Southampton Historical Museum this morning—the day before Valentine’s Day—before pending inclement weather forced its postponement to May 8. The program, organized by Penelope Wright at the Rogers Memorial Library, will feature two other couples with long-lasting love stories: John and Bernice Holden, and Howard and Susan McElroy.
The three couples are a part of the ongoing oral history program, which records personal accounts of East End residents and stores them in the library for other current and future locals to enjoy.
“It seems like a fun idea to talk to some of the local people we have known over so many years, but haven’t known much about how they met or their years of marriage together,” Ms. Wright said this week. “It will be interesting to hear what has made their marriages so long and lasting.”
The Holdens are lifelong Southampton residents who have been married for 67 years. This week, sitting in their Elm Street home, Mr. Holden, 93, took the time to explain how he met the love of his life as a kid through mutual family friends, but they did not start dating until he returned from serving in the European campaign of World War II for the U.S. Army.
Once back on the East End, he was taken by the smile of Mrs. Holden, who is now 89, when they ran into each other by coincidence while crossing the street, and immediately asked her on a date. Three months later, he knew he was in love, and asked for her hand in marriage. Six months after they met, in September 1947, they were married in a small ceremony in New York City.
Even after so many years, the bond between the two is evident. When recounting their love story, without hearing what the other was sharing, both would launch into the same stories about trips to the movies, wallpapering their home, an infamous coconut cake, and raising their three children. The couple has four grandchildren and three great-granddaughters.
Eventually, Mrs. Holden, with a knowing smile, would sit quietly and let Mr. Holden go into great detail about their earlier years, occasionally adding a forgotten detail, which Mr. Holden would elaborate on with a twinkle in his loving eyes.
“Sometimes, I was so entranced by her, I can’t remember anything else,” he laughed.
The McElroys are looking forward to sharing the story of their romance, and how Mrs. McElroy, now 77, followed her husband, now 79, to the Mediterranean to start their lives together while he was serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. The pair has two children and five grandchildren.
“She is dynamite,” Mr. McElroy said this week of his wife, Susan. “She is just one of the most positive, upbeat people you could ever imagine. We hit it off very fast—she is just unbelievable.”
When it comes to what makes a long, happy marriage, all three couples seemed to have a different answer, ranging from making compromises to putting the other person first. But for Mr. Haile, the answer was easy, noting that it is always best to give Mrs. Haile what she wants.
“Whatever the question is, the answer is always ‘yes,’” he said with a smile, as Mrs. Haile laughed.
“If I know that he is going to say yes, I’d better be careful what I wish for!” she said. “It gives a sense of control in the community here. I control myself, because I know that he is always going to back me up.”
“Everyone wants to know what the secret ingredient to a long marriage is,” Mrs. Haile said. “We don’t know what that is, but when we decided to get married, we made the decision to share our lives together. And we have.”
To reserve a spot at the event call the historical museum at 283-2494.