When Theo and Reine Berns were married in Oss, Netherlands, on February 14, 1953, the concept of Valentine’s Day did not yet exist in their country.
The couple celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary at Powell River General Hospital last Wednesday surrounded by close family and friends. They had their own reasons for choosing the date all those years ago, said Theo.
“I had gotten a job in Africa,” he said. “We are Catholic and it was the last weekend before Lent. In those days during Lent they wouldn’t marry people, and I had to leave.”
After the wedding, Theo went to what was then Southern Rhodesia, known today as the Republic of Zambia, where he had found work as a railway engineer.
“Originally, Dad wanted to move to Canada,” said Betty Rae, the eldest of the couple’s seven children, “but you had to be a farmer at that time, so he ended up in Africa.”
Betty and her mother joined Theo in Africa when she was an infant and she spent her childhood there. They left before war broke out, returning to the Netherlands.
“After living in a place like Africa, Holland was a very different culture and lifestyle and my dad applied to come to Canada again, and we got in,” said Betty.
Today the couple’s extended family lives in Canada, including granddaughters Jennifer and Annette Rae, who remarked on the rarity of their grandparents’ achievement. The sisters said finding cards to fit what is known as the blue sapphire anniversary were hard to find.
“We couldn’t even find a card that said 65,” said Annette. “It stopped at 60.”
Both sisters said they felt inspired by their grandparents’ commitment to their marriage.
“You don’t always see families together, so it’s really inspirational,” said Jennifer. “One can only hope that’s what it’s going to be like for us when we get older.”
Reine recently underwent hip surgery and is recovering in hospital. On the day of the celebration, she was not feeling well enough to join the party in the downstairs cafeteria. Theo made an appearance, but was quick to return to his wife.
“I must get back to my Reine, my queen,” he said, referring to her name’s meaning in French.
“For Catholics, this is also Ash Wednesday,” said Betty, “which makes it difficult to celebrate with gusto because it’s a day we recognize as a day to God, to fast and pray, and yet we have this huge, beautiful celebration, so we did what we could.”
For Theo, looking back on the couple’s 65 years of married life together, he said he recalls the great adventures they have shared.
“We’ve done 12 cruises together; we’ve been to Australia and Indonesia,” he said. “Looking back on our life, I would like to have another 20 years more.”