On a secluded, sun-splashed lawn at the Ventura County Fairgrounds Tuesday, 16 couples stood and faced each other.
"As you renew your vows," the Rev. Curt Miner told them, "I challenge you to continue seeking the meaning of life through the changing prism of your love."
As he concluded the fair's seventh annual Blessing of Marriage ceremony for couples wed 40 years or longer, Miner, associate pastor of the Church of the Foothills in Ventura, asked the men the same question some of them had been asked more than half a century ago:
"Will you take this woman to be your wife?"
"Definitely!" a gray-haired groom shouted.
That kind of exuberance prevailed throughout the brief ceremony that was a highlight of Senior and Physically Challenged Day at the County Fair.
To fair-goers, the gathering in the Home Arts Garden must have looked like a traditional wedding ceremony, complete with cake, corsages and even "Blessing of Marriage" certificates.
And, while the nuclear family may be on the wane, the 32 men and women who repeated their vows agreed wholeheartedly that marriage for them is as blissful as ever.
The road can, however, get rocky, conceded some participants, many of whom wore formal attire.
"Keep arguing all the time, but then make up," Marian Bentley of Northridge said when asked how younger couples might emulate she and her husband, Wendell, who recently celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. In fact, five of the couples had reached the 50-year mark in the past 12 months.
"Share similar interests and strengthen your marriage by living through adversity," Ross Huffman, a retired Navy Seabee from Oxnard, said. He and his wife, Rae, have been married 50 years.
In recent years, Huffman said, he and Rae have enjoyed music together--she as a prizewinning fiddler and he as an official of an old-time fiddlers' organization.
But for a total of 15 years, the couple were separated while Ross served overseas during three wars--World War II and the Korea and Vietnam wars.
"There's a saying about service marriages," Ross said. "They make a strong marriage stronger and a weak marriage weaker." Rae nodded in agreement.
For Virgil and Gladys Benson of Ventura, who have been married 55 years, the worst adversity they had to overcome was the Depression. They were wed Nov. 18, 1934, when jobs were hard to find.
"He always worked, though," Gladys Benson said. "That first year, he made $18 a week as a salesman. And that wasn't too bad. We paid $16 a month for our apartment. Hamburger was two pounds for a quarter."
The greatest crisis in the 42-year marriage of Carrol and Rose Snoke came when they learned that their son, Robert, had been shot in Vietnam.
"He was badly wounded," Carrol Snoke said. "It was a time that definitely brought us closer together."
Tuesday, Robert was in the audience of about 100, watching his parents repeat their vows.
Judy Lary, a senior center director for the Ventura Parks and Recreation Department, which sponsored the ceremony, said Tuesday's event was the biggest ever, beating out last year's, when 15 couples took part.
Two Ventura couples--James and Doris Wingate and Florencio and Wilda Egurrola--led this year's group with 60 years of marriage each.
The Wingates were married Nov. 10, 1930, in San Buenaventura Mission.
But the Egurrolas, who have participated in the fair ceremony for the past five years, were married the longest of all, having been wed in Santa Ana on Jan. 13, 1930.
"Take care of each other," Wilda Egurrola, 77, said. "Marriage is 50-50."
"Just get along together," her husband, 87, said.
In other events honoring seniors Tuesday, Shirl Baron of Cheltenham, Pa., was named the fair's Senior Queen, Miles Teicher of Ventura and Louise McKinney of Oxnard won the Senior Dance Contest, and Chuck and Ruth Sitton of Oak View won the group dance contest.
Today's EVENTS: Ventura County Fair exhibits, contests and demonstrations. B2