It’s amazing Justus Richardson and Mable Hembree ever got married, considering they had a flat tire on the way to buy their marriage license and the preacher hitch-hiked to the ceremony, then lost his flashlight before he could perform the wedding in the middle of the night.
If you think that’s hard to believe, try this: The Richardsons are still married and today — Christmas Eve 2017 — will celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary.
Seventy-five years with the same person. Or 27,375 nights together.
The Richardsons were 19 when they married on Dec. 24, 1942, one year after the U.S. entered World War II.
“She wanted me and I wanted her,” Justus Richardson said in the living room with his wife only a few feet away. “We decided to get married, so we did.”
And this lifetime love affair started on a cold night 75 years ago. They bought their marriage license in Estill County, Ky. from Maggie Wolfinbarger, and Pastor Clay Johnson performed the ceremony. Johnson was an old-fashioned Baptist preacher, one who chewed tobacco right up until he delivered his Sunday sermon. He refused to take any money for performing the Richardsons’ wedding, but jokingly asked the groom to buy him another flashlight.
Actually, Justus and Mable, both 94, have been together longer than 75 years. They met in kindergarten. Friends and lovers for life, these two.
If you got an hour or so, ask Justus Richardson the key to marriage. He’ll start preaching right there in his living room.
“Being Christian is No. 1,” he said before adding, “Amen. Follow Jesus instead of the devil.”
Justus Richardson has attended church every Sunday and never been late, he said. He has held every position except pastor. His wife — who has beaten Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, suffered several strokes and lost vision in her left eye — no longer attends church because of her failing health.
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The Richardsons have two daughters, Maye Gregory, 73, and Barbara Bailey, 72, who live next door in Fairfield; six grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. When asked what lessons she learned from her parents, Gregory pointed to her Christian upbringing.
“The best gift from them was the love of God they put in our hearts,” she said. “They taught us about going to church. Nothing could be better than that.”
Two days before they got married, the couple had their picture taken. It’s still duct-taped to a wall in the living room, a constant reminder of young love.
After getting married, the Richardsons moved from Kentucky to Liberty Twp., and he started farming, a career that kept him out of World War II. He was given deferrals that expired about the time the war ended. He later worked 39 years at Mosler Safe Co. in Hamilton.
He remains active today. He drives and has a thriving lawn care business. He cuts four lawns in the summer, down from 30 just a few years ago.
He remembers when his parents celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary.
“Felt sorry for them,” he said. “Now look at us, 75 years. How about that?”
Throughout their marriage, Richardson said he never drank, cheated on his wife or cursed, what he called “a toilet word.”
His wife shifted her weight in the chair and that caught his attention. He cares for her around the clock. He feeds her and monitors her medications. Seventy-five years ago, he said: “in sickness and in health.”
He believes that today.
“She’s been a good wife,” he said. “She is changing. She can’t help it and neither can I. I told her, ‘If I’m with you for 100 years, I would not be tired of you.’”