COLUMBIA — Chester and Vonda Edwards agree they've been happy together for the 51 years since they married in 1962. But they can't agree where they first met.
Chester, 72, says he first saw his wife in New York, but "it was the Lions Club in Plainville in Indiana when we first met," Vonda, 70, said. “I was decorating the Christmas party, and he came over and helped me out to do it.”
A few days later, on Dec. 31, 1960, they went on their first date. He was 19; she was two years younger. After just one day together, Chester went back to DeVry Technical Institute in Chicago to continue pursuing an associate's degrees in electronic technology and design.
The two sent letters to each other nearly every day.
"He told me he loved me, and I said, 'You can't love me, we don't know each other yet,'" Vonda said. "And he wrote in the letter, 'I guess you are right. But falling in love is like a tree growing and not falling off a log.'"
After they danced together at her Plainville High School senior prom, Vonda started working at a bank 60 miles from Chicago in Mendota, Ill., so the couple could see each other once a month.
In December 1961, Chester got down on one knee and asked her to be his "lifelong partner."
"And I said, 'yes,'" Vonda said.
They married on June 17, 1962, in Plainville Christian Church following Chester's college graduation. The couple expected a small and intimate ceremony, but the pews swelled with people, and it seemed as if the entire town of 600 attended.
"When a small town has a party, the whole town shows up," Vonda said.
Money struggled to keep pace with their love, though, Chester revealed a hole in the bottom of his shoe when on one knee during his vows.
"She had to pay for the Indiana marriage license."
On Thanksgiving Day two years later, on Nov. 26, 1964, Vonda gave birth to the couple's first child, Jill — a "blessing," the Edwards said.
"The doctors had told us it was highly unlikely to have children," Chester said. "So we started the adoption process through the Christian church in Chicago."
Rebecca was born Dec. 4, 1966, and Kurt arrived five years later.
"What was taught to all of the children was that marriage was work," Rebecca Edwards Lorentzen said in her speech during the couple's 50th wedding anniversary celebration on June 17, 2012.
The Edwards settled in Columbia in 1968, where Chester resumed his education as a part-time industrial education student at MU and graduated in 1976 with a bachelor's degree.
Fifth Ward councilman from 1986 to 1990, he worked at the MU Research Reactor Center before retiring in 2000 and then with the Columbia Public Schools as a facility manager before retiring again in 2008. Vonda worked at Rock Bridge High School as an administrative assistant from 1995 to 2005.
"We have a blessed life," Vonda said. "Sometimes I even feel guilty to have such a great life. Every day is the best time."
Supervising editor is Jake Kreinberg.