61 years later ... sweethearts tie knot

By SAMANTHA BILHARZ Mattoon Journal-Gazette Published:

MATTOON, Ill. (AP) -- Betty Parker and Bob Easton's marriage has been 61 years in the making -- after all, they first fell in love when they were teenagers.

In late December, the duo made it official with a Christmas-themed wedding at Brookstone Estates North in Mattoon. The bride wore purple, while the groom dressed in a gray suit and tie.

This is the second marriage both for Parker, 78, and Easton, 79, who have known each other since 1952.

Parker was just 16 when she first started dating 17-year-old Easton. The pair met through Parker's cousin in Greenup and after a year of dating they went their separate ways.

Both Parker and Easton said to this day they still can't remember why they split up in the first place, but are just happy to have rekindled their romance after many years apart.

"Neither of us remember what happened," Easton said. "All we know is we were too young at the time to get married and so we moved on and ended up losing touch."

After the breakup, Easton moved to Mattoon to work, joined the Air Force and then married. Parker stayed in Greenup and ended up getting married as well, but eventually moved to Mattoon.

Each raised a family. After three children and 58 years of marriage, Easton's first wife died. Parker became a widow after 38 years with her first husband, with whom she raised three children.

Even with distance and time between them, Easton tried to reconnect with Parker but was unsuccessful until a few years ago when he was visiting a friend in a Mattoon apartment building. He noticed Parker's mom also lived there.

"I buzzed Betty's mom to try to figure out where her daughter was," Easton said.

He was able to get a hold of Parker's mom, who got the couple back in touch again.

"My mom called me and I came over to talk to him," Parker said. "We have stayed in touch ever since that day."

Parker and Easton started dating again on July 4, 2012.

"We have always thought a great deal of each other, there is no doubt about that," Easton said.

In October, Easton worked up the courage to ask Parker to marry him.

"I bought her a diamond ring for $2 at a garage sale and told her, 'This is all I have right now but you will get a real one later,'" Easton said, smiling.

Easton held up his end of the bargain and Parker received a real sparkler on her left hand before the wedding.

"The fake diamond on the $2 ring was bigger than the one she has now," Easton said with a laugh.

After getting engaged, Easton convinced Parker to move from Mattoon to his home in Clinton.

"Morally, by living together, we needed to be married," Easton said. "That's the way it's supposed to be."

Parker said Easton had asked her to marry him at least twice, but moving away from Mattoon deterred her at first.

"She said 'yes' because she can't live without me," Easton said with a smile.

Before getting married, Easton made Parker a promise that she couldn't turn down.

"He said he plans on making me happier than I have ever been in my life and I'm looking forward to that," Parker said.

The couple were married among about 100 family, friends and residents at Brookstone. Neither Parker or Easton live at Brookstone, but Parker's best friend and maid of honor Barb Fetters has resided there for five years.

Parker visits Fetters at Brookstone often, so the facility seemed like a second home for the bride.

"I'm happy that she got married and I like Bob too; he makes Betty very happy," Fetters said.

The wedding was all made possible by Leah Hanson, assistant executive director at Brookstone, who said she wanted to do something nice for the couple. It's a bittersweet moment for those at Brookstone.

"We consider Betty our own because she is always here with Barb and now that Betty is moving away we won't be able to see her anymore," Hanson said.

Wedding plans were in the works for about a month, but Hanson said she didn't mind because she was giving back to Betty, who had done so much for Brookstone and its residents.

"Betty has done a lot for us in the past by helping with activities and visiting with residents," Hanson said. "She has just been a good friend to Brookstone overall and a good friend to the residents."

Hanson said she wanted to give both Parker and Easton a traditional wedding like one they had never had before, as a thank you.

"Betty is just such a sweetheart," Hanson said. "You just want to do anything for her."

This is the second time Brookstone has hosted a wedding.

If it wasn't for Hanson, the newlyweds said they would have just eloped or would have been married by a minister at their house.

Once the bride and groom were married, both Easton and Parker said a feeling of calmness set in.

"I always thought somewhere down the road we would get back together," he said.

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