By Belinda M. Paschal
PIQUA — It’s fitting that Jim and Sherry Heath love to take ocean cruises, as their 50-year marriage can be compared to one: A pleasurable trip with occasional choppy waters, but for the most part, it’s been smooth sailing.
As they celebrate their semicentennial anniversary today, the Heaths look back with fondness and laughter at the memories they’ve made over the years, from adolescence to the present, spent entirely in Piqua.
“We were such kids when we got married, just 18 and 19. We’re different people now. We grew up together.” Sherry said. “Back when we got married, 2014 sounded like a lifetime away. We’ve been very, very blessed.”
“The time sure flies,” Jim added.
Those who were around “back in the day” might remember seeing the pair as they first embarked on their matrimonial journey, when they were featured in a Piqua Daily Call photo spread that ran June 5, 1964 — the day before their wedding — and showed the young couple shopping at various downtown businesses.
“At that time, there wasn’t a mall, so everything was downtown. It was a lot different than it is today,” Jim recalled. “Downtown was really booming. I really enjoyed it.”
Though Piqua has grown and changed over the past five decades, home is truly where the heart is for this couple who grew up, met, married and raised their family here. That family, which plays a big part in their lives, includes three children — daughter Nancy (John) Cox, who lives in Tipp City, and two sons, Jimmy and Jeff (Natalee), both of whom live in Piqua. They also have four grandsons and a granddaughter.
“We are so proud of our children as parents. Both sets of kids that are parents are spectacular parents. We really enjoy our grandchildren,” Sherry said.
Sherry was an attractive majorette and Jim was a boy with “cute legs” when the two met as teens. “It was definitely like at first sight,” Sherry said. “As much as someone at 16 understands that sort of thing, I thought he was pretty special.”
“His cousin was one of my best friends, who introduced us in high school,” Sherry said, admitting that the couple “broke up a few times” in the beginning. But as Jim said, “Things happen — we were young. But it was meant to be.”
In addition to family, faith plays an important role in their marriage and everyday lives, said the couple, who are members of Greene Street United Methodist Church, the very same church where Sherry was baptized growing up and where they were married by the Rev. Donald Mumma.
“This has been our church our whole lives,” said Jim, who retired three years ago from TruGreen/ChemLawn.
Greene Street also is where Sherry has worked for some 40 years, progressing through a variety of positions that have included janitor, secretary, office manager and treasurer. She joked that she continues to work to “keep Jim in the lifestyle to which he has become accustomed.”
This sort of light-hearted ribbing is common between the two, who have an easy, comfortable way with each other and a palpable affection as they banter back and forth. It’s plain to see that they enjoy their time together, whether they’re astride their bicycles or aboard a cruise ship.
The Heaths will celebrate their golden wedding anniversary with yet another of their beloved cruises, this one going to Nassau, St. Thomas and St. Maarten, with more than a dozen friends and family members joining them for the festivities.
“It’s going to be a good time,” Sherry said.
“You make a lot of good memories on the beach,” Jim chimed in.
When asked the “secret” to a long-lasting marriage, the Heaths don’t pretend to have all the answers; they just know what has worked for them.
“I think the success of our marriage, especially the last 20 years, has been because of our deeper Christian walk,” Sherry said. “We both went on the Walk to Emmaus, a three-day retreat that sort of puts things in perspective. Our marriage deepened even more after that.”
“When we got married, I don’t recall ever thinking I had an ‘out’ — it was for the rest of my life. Most things can be fixed if you’re willing to fix them.”
Jim agreed, adding, “You make a commitment and it’s not always going to be easy. But it’s been good. I hope we can last another 50 years.”
“Sherry’s dad once told me, ‘The greatest thing a husband can do for his children is to love their mother.’ That’s very strong and it always stayed with me.”
Jim summed up his feelings for Sherry by paraphrasing a song popularized by Bette Midler. “She is the wind beneath my wings,” he said. “We have weathered some storms, but we always come out with the glass half full rather than half empty.”
Belinda M. Paschal may be reached at (937) 773-2721 or on Twitter @TheDailyCall.