Local couple celebrates a Marvel-ous 70 years together

Coastal Point • Tyler Valliant: Irene and Charles Marvel in their kitchen in Dagsboro.Coastal Point • Tyler Valliant: Irene and Charles Marvel in their kitchen in Dagsboro.Charles Marvel traveled the world in the 1940s as a sailor in the U.S. Navy. He says, however, that he had to come home to Sussex County to find his bride. Now 70 years on, the Dagsboro couple looked back on those days fondly, and bit surprised at how fast time has flown.

“I was a sailor, visiting ports,” he said. “I saw a lot of women.”

By 1947, Marvel had settled back into life in Delaware, getting a job at the Roland Scott clothing store in Selbyville. One day, he recalled, “A friend said, ‘Let’s go around to this little greasy spoon’” for lunch.

There, he saw her — a 17-year-old waitress named Irene.

“Of all the women I’d seen in the world, she was the prettiest,” he said.

Apparently, the feeling was mutual, as Irene Evans had been watching the young man from across the restaurant that day and on subsequent afternoons when “his friend, John Howard, would bring him in.” She figured from his graying temples, however, that he might be a bit too old for her. It turned out that he had just inherited prematurely gray hair. He was all of 20 years old.

Their first date was a movie at the Avenue movie theater in Rehoboth Beach, although neither remembers what movie was playing. On Christmas Day 1947, the two were married in a small ceremony in a Rehoboth Beach church. There’s no traditional “wedding photo” of the pair — they took each other’s picture while perched on a stone wall next to the ocean.

Asked why they chose Christmas Day for their wedding, Irene Marvel said simply, “We had no money, there was nothing else to do, and he had the day off.”

For the couple’s 70th anniversary, the Marvels’ sons — Mark and Dana — recently gave them a trip to Sight & Sound Theater in Lancaster, Pa., to see the theater’s presentation of the Biblical story of Samson. This time, they had their picture taken together, in front of a Christmas tree at the theater.

The Marvels still live in the house they built in the 1940s, on the farm that has been in Charles’ family for generations. Some of the wood used to build the house’s frame came from trees on the property. They recalled that the construction took quite a while, because in the post-war years, “It was hard to get anything.” They lived in the house for six months before the electricity was installed.

Today, the house is filled with visual reminders of the lives of the Marvel family. In the “cave,” as Irene calls her husband’s den, the walls are covered with photos telling the family’s story — from Charles’ Navy days to son Mark’s high-school musical group to their five grandchildren.

Irene’s collection of thimbles from around the world is stored in neat groupings around the house, and Charles’ woodcarving prowess is showcased in some of the ducks he has carved. Irene pointed out her favorite — the duck’s head is curved back and tucked into intricately carved feathers.

Although Irene is 87 and Charles will turn 91 on Valentine’s Day, the couple continues to stay busy in the community.

Irene volunteers at the Atlantic Community Thrift Store (ACTS) in Millville at least two days a week, “Sometimes three, if they need me,” she said. She has volunteered at the thrift store for 25 year and said she keeps going back because “I like the people, and you feel like you’re helping somebody.” And, she added, “It’s where I go for entertainment.”

Both agreed that one of the keys to their long, happy marriage is that they both have always had things to do outside the home. Although they were quite young when they married, Irene had “grown up early,” since she and her younger sister were raised mostly by their father, who worked on tugboats in Philadelphia, so she had to learn to cook and take care of the house.

When she and Charles met, she and her sister — who was still in school — had moved to Sussex County, where her father had many relatives. The two lived in a rented room, by themselves, but had the support of family if they needed it, she recalled.

“I was 17 going on 21,” she said.

Upon marrying and moving to the Marvel family farm, Irene recalled, her new husband had to adjust to her “city” ways of cooking, and she, for her part, learned to cook what he liked.

“I don’t think he’d ever seen a brussels sprout.” At the farm, she said, “They ate what they grew.”

The farm is still a busy place, with both sons, as well as grandson Jordan, living on the property. The Marvels and their much-loved dog Bandit live in the house where they raised their boys — where Mark, longtime Indian River High School band director, learned to love music from his mandolin-playing mom and his trumpet-playing dad; and Dana, longtime carpenter for Hickman Brothers Construction, honed his craft alongside his father.

When initially contacted by the Coastal Point, Irene Marvel confessed she was a bit perplexed as to why anyone would think their 70th anniversary was worthy of coverage.

“It’s no big deal,” she said.

The Marvels both said they feel the key to their long marriage is that they view it as a 50-50 partnership. But they both acknowledge the impact of God in their lives and in their marriage. Longtime (actually, lifelong, in Charles’ case) members of St. George’s United Methodist Church in Clarksville, their parting words were: “It takes three to make a marriage,” referring to their faith. “Make sure you put that in there.”