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Evelyn Fulkerson cried when her daughter decided to get married two weeks before her 16th birthday, the age she was when she married her husband.
Evelyn’s husband, Bill, told their daughter, now Betty Walters, he would sign paperwork for her to marry her 17-year-old sweetheart if she stayed with the family long enough to help her pregnant mother until the birth of the youngest of nine children to survive infancy.
Betty agreed and helped Evelyn until Bill fulfilled his side of the bargain in January 1963. Bill knew Betty would not change her mind, despite Evelyn’s pleas.
Soon afterwards, Betty and her new husband stood with her older brother, Tommy Fulkerson, and his 17-year-old sweetheart as they eloped.
Tommy’s wife, Linda, said her father’s opinion on marrying young made the elopement and keeping the marriage secret for a while necessary.
“He would have killed us,” Linda said.
Tommy said Betty and her husband, Michael, originally intended to elope with the couple but were afraid they’d back out.
The eventful beginning of their two oldest children’s marriages and concerns about marrying young hasn’t stopped Bill and Evelyn from reaching a milestone and watching their entire family avoid a nationwide trend.
About half of marriages in the United States end in divorce, but none of their children’s marriages have met the same fate.
Bill and Evelyn celebrated their 70th anniversary Sunday with their family.
The event at the Upton Community Center also honored the 50th anniversaries of Betty and Michael, and Tommy and Linda.
Each of the farm family’s nine living children are married to their first spouses, and the most recent marriage among them has lasted for 21 years.
Several of them also have opinions about why divorce has become more prevalent outside of their family.
Linda said she thinks a lot of people enter into marriage thinking that they can get divorced if it doesn’t work out, so they don’t work as hard as they can to get through the inevitable bad times.
“It’s not the commitment that it used to be,” she said.
Linda joked that their marriage has lasted so long, even when it would have been easier to give up, because she always gets her way.
“We’re as different as night and day,” she said.
Betty and Michael began dating after meeting on a double date, each coming with the opposite person.
Betty said they were too young when they got married, but church, communication and determination have held them together for 50 years.
Bill and Evelyn don’t talk much about their 70-year relationship, speaking more as if the years had snuck up on them.
They agree that hard times come for every couple and there is not as much emphasis on working through problems as there was when they met as neighbors and married after six months of dating.
They say their family has been lucky.
Amber Coulter can be reached at (270) 505-1746 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Stories from the Heartland appears Mondays in The News-Enterprise.