A milestone marriage: Local couple marks 75th anniversary
After being married for three-quarters of a century, perhaps it’s understandable that you’d lose track of the exact number of years that have passed.
So, last month, when Dan and Beverly Shirley of Ocean View received cards congratulating them on 75 years of marriage, they were initially a bit taken aback.
“I thought it was only the 74th,” Dan Shirley said.
But it was indeed Jan. 16, 1942, when the two were married in St. Barnabas Church in Oxon Hill, Md. Dan was 22 and Beverly was 20.
“It was just a family gathering on a Friday evening,” Beverly Shirley recalled.
The two said that, since they both could only get the weekend off from their jobs, after their small wedding ceremony, they left for a weekend in Richmond, Va. At the time, Beverly worked as secretary for a Washington, D.C., electrical firm and Dan worked for Peoples drug stores as a signage and display manager. The couple noted that they did get to have a “real” honeymoon — a week in Virginia Beach, Va. — that summer.
Asked how they met and how their courtship started, the two didn’t have a lot to say, except that they had known each other through school but didn’t start dating until afterward, because “Beverly’s mother wouldn’t let her date until she was out of school,” Dan said.
To hear him tell it, he was quite the man-about-town from the time he got his first car at the age of 14.
“You didn’t need a license to drive a car in those days,” he said, adding that “I dated girls from then on.”
Once they did start dating, the couple dated for about a year before they married and, from that first date, he said, “We’ve been together ever since.”
Before they were “serious,” though, there was a time when, Dan admitted, he left his home because he was upset that Beverly was dating other young men. “I might have been a little jealous,” he said.
A photograph hanging in the hallway of their Cedar Bay apartment shows the young couple dressed up for a day in Washington, D.C. As Dan explained, it was common for photographers to be stationed throughout the capital in those days, offering to take photos of sightseers as a souvenir of their day in the city.
Although they had grown up near each other, Dan and Beverly had childhoods that, while different, offer a glimpse into those times. One of 10 children, Beverly said, “My parents bought a truck farm,” where crops were grown and then “trucked” into the city for sale. As on many farms, her family grew tobacco, and one of Shirley’s favorite activities was climbing on the barn rails on which the tobacco was hung to dry.
“It’s a wonder I didn’t die doing that,” she said.
She recalled at least two times she did come close to catastrophe — both when she was traveling around Washington, D.C.
One of those times was a day in 1950, when she was driving down Pennsylvania Avenue with Dan’s sister, when shots rang out near Blair House, where President Harry Truman was living while the White House was being renovated. Beverly recalled seeing the gunmen — two Puerto Rican independence activists — and hearing gunfire. A White House police officer suffered fatal injuries that day, but Truman was uninjured.
Another close call came when she was sitting in the back of a city bus and a speeding train nearly hit the bus.
Dan Shirley grew up the son of a trainer of harness-racing horses, and he said his dad traveled all over the eastern half of the country with his horses, racing them at county fairs and other such events.
“He was a good provider, but he wasn’t home too much,” he recalled.
As was common for young men in the 1940s, in 1943, Dan joined the Air Force. He was sent to Wisconsin, where he spent the next three years working in security for Air Force radar training activities. Beverly joined him there, where she gained employment as a court reporter in a Judge Advocate office. Beverly worked there until their son, Stephen, was born in 1945. Dan was discharged from the Air Force in 1946, and returned to the East Coast and his job at Peoples drug stores.
Three year later, their daughter, Teresa, was born, and the couple settled into life with their children. Asked about the core values they tried to instill, both Shirleys agreed that faith played a big part. “Raising them in the church” was a central part of life for the Shirleys, Beverly said.
Clean living is something the Shirleys also credit with their long, healthy marriage. Although neither drinks, both admitted to smoking when they were younger. Dan said he decided he’d had enough when “cigarettes were 90 cents a pack, so I quit.”
When they moved to Bethany Beach in 1983, the couple joined St. Martha’s Episcopal Church. Through the church, Beverly said, she became instrumental in the foundation of the Atlantic Community Thrift Shop (ACTS), as well as the local Meals on Wheels operation. Dan volunteered at Beebe Medical Center as a transporter for patients needing X-rays and joined the Lions Club.
For fun, the couple spent many weekends kicking up their heels with the Big Band Dance Society of Delaware. Dances were held in a variety of locations throughout the state, including the officer’s club at Fort Miles at Cape Henlopen State Park.
“That was our pastime,” Beverly said.
“We danced Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays,” Dan added.
Beverly recalled that, although there was a lot of “jitterbugging,” and the couple learned all sorts of dances — including the electric slide and the shag — her favorite dance remains the waltz.
Now 95 and 97, respectively, Beverly and Dan have been slowed quite a bit by macular degeneration — an eye disease that reduces vision and commonly affects older people. But, despite some trouble hearing these days, Dan maintains a definite sense of humor.
The Shirleys moved to Cedar Bay about 10 years ago, when maintenance of their Bethany Beach house became “too much like a job,” Dan said.
Daughter Teresa Walsh now lives in Millville and son Stephen in Annapolis, Md., and the couple has plenty of grandchildren (three) and great-grandchildren (six) to keep track of.
As they begin their 76th year of marriage, both Dan and Beverly seem to realize how lucky they are to have made it so far, and to be able to still enjoy each other and their families. They summed up their 75th anniversary this way: “We’ve lived a good life,” Beverly said. “It was tough, but we made it,” said Dan.