These couples have been married 25,600 years

  • by: Halle Stockton 02/15/09

VENICE - Mary Grace Yemma made her dress, and Raymond Yemma purchased his khaki suit especially for the couple's 40th anniversary.

That was 21 years ago.

The Yemmas, both 85, pulled those garments out of the closet Saturday to celebrate their 61st year of marriage by renewing their marital vows at the Epiphany Cathedral Parish in Venice.

And 519 other couples celebrating milestone anniversaries did the same.

There were 23 couples present who had been married for 65 to 70 years, 135 couples who were in their 50th year of marriage and the rest had been married for 25 years or more.

Five couples at the mass were actually wed on Valentine's Day.

Bishop Frank Dewane told the parish he did the math, and of the couples present, their total time married was 25,600 years.

"It takes a great deal of patience, compassion, love and humility for this," Dewane said. "These are words society does not always put a high premium on. But those celebrating anniversaries today, you know those are important qualities or you wouldn't be here because your marriage wouldn't have endured."

That message seems to miss the mark for many couples in the state. Florida has one of the highest per capita divorce rates in the country.

Since 1990, there have been more than 80,000 divorces a year, consistently higher than the country's divorce rate.

In 2006, there were nearly 86,000 dissolutions.

The most divorces occur during the fifth through ninth years of marriage, state statistics show.

That dismal number is why the Florida Family Policy Council launched a campaign to reduce the divorce rate by 10 percent.

Council President John Stemberger said they will help churches and other organizations establish pre-marital education classes and counseling.

"Marriage is one of the most complex and important human relationships for which we have no preparation at all," he said.

The council also hopes to effect change in policy because of divorce's financial impact.

Florida's no-fault law allows marriage to be ended for any reason, which Stemberger said contributes to an extra taxpayer burden of $1.9 billon a year .

Bob and Rhonda Will, a couple celebrating their 38th year of marriage, lead pre-marital education sessions at Epiphany Cathedral.

"It is creating an awareness of what might happen in the future," said Rhonda, 58. "You have to take them out the romance and say they will hit a wall. Marriage is tough, but wonderful."

Bob, 59, said it is important to show couples what it takes to be married before they exchange vows.

"Marriage is not disposable," he said.

Ken and Barbara Boucher -- founders of a Sarasota group for devoted partners of 50-plus years -- acknowledged that marriage problems are many.

"But it boils down to making good choices to begin with, understanding the other person's point of view and being willing to compromise," said Ken Boucher, 77. "Try to get it resolved before you go to bed, too."

The Bouchers' 54-year marriage led the Sarasota pair to form Goldenaires, a group that gathers couples who have been married for 50-plus years or who think they will.

"We just stand for longevity and commitment," said Barbara Boucher, 76.

As Mary Grace Yemma pushed her husband's wheelchair along a refreshment table, she reflected on how she met him at quaint, local dances in Rhode Island. Raymond had just returned from World War II.

"I would go with the girls, and he would go with the boys," she said. "Eventually, we decided we wanted to go together."

Sixty-one years later, the Venice couple still thinks back on those dances and all the experiences in-between that have given them four children, nine grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.