Story and photos by Michael J. Owen
U.S. Navy Journalist (Ret.)
In singing an old song, "God grant you many years, many blessive years. God grant you many years, many blessive years. Of peace health and happiness, of peace health and happiness, God grant you many blessive years," Leo Orynawka, married 64 years to his wife, Stephania, helped to celebrate Valentine's Day at the Grand Island Golden Age Center Wednesday. The song traditionally performed at weddings and anniversaries was in honor of those couples married more than 50 years at the senior center's annual Sweethearts Luncheon celebrating love, longevity and marriage.
"We feel especially honored being recognized for something that we thought we were supposed to do - to love one other and stay together until death do us part," he said. "My wife, Stephania, and I would like to thank everyone at the center for this wonderful Valentine's Day celebration of longevity and marriage."
Orynawka worked as a music teacher in Niagara Falls from 1950 to 1980 and they are both of Ukrainian background. "This song is a Ukrainian tradition at weddings and anniversaries," he continued. "In Ukrainian it is pronounced mnohaya lita meaning many years."
Hank Carroll also sang a beautiful old song that shows the love of two people after many happy years of marriage called: "When Your Old Wedding Ring Was New." Married 66 years to his bride, Nonnie, and gazing at her from across the room, he belted out the tune with his traditional Irish spirit. "When your old wedding ring was new and the dreams that we dreamed came true. I remember with pride when we stood side by side, and what a beautiful picture you made as my bride. Now although silver crowns your hair. I remember those gold ringlets there. Love's refrain still remains, as the day I changed your name. When your old wedding ring was new."
Additionally, everyone shared in prayer remembering those loved ones that now rest in peace, and especially for those members spending their first Valentine's Day alone without their spouse. As heads bowed, the prayer echoed through the dining hall: "Lord we ask you to reach out to those spending this day without their spouse or loved-one. For some this may be their first Valentine's Day alone. And even though their hearts may weigh heavy with sorrow, we ask you Lord to give them guidance, support and instead fill their hearts with the joy and love that we all share here today. Amen!"
Traditionally, Valentine's Day is celebrated as a lovers' holiday with the exchange of heart-shaped candy and cards, or flowers and other gifts between couples in love. The day has varied meanings and history, yet supposedly originated in fifth century Rome as a tribute to St. Valentine, a Catholic martyr.
For the Golden Age Center, Feb. 14 is a day to recognize those couples who have achieved at least their 50th wedding anniversary. The day is also another way for seniors, including single members and couples married less than 50 years, to stay active and have fun while celebrating their love for a long and peaceful life. While GAC volunteer photographer Cheryl Loree took each couple's picture individually with the wife holding a single red rose for the center's picture board, some shared their words of wisdom.
Most couples agreed that the secrets to life or rather staying together are: understanding and compromise, remember anniversaries and birthdays, never going to bed angry, and keeping love and the Lord in your heart. And for the oldest married couple of 71 years, Art and Caroline Broadway, it's also about who gets in the last word. "I always get the last word," Art said: "Yes, dear."