Dick and Mary Stoner of Windsor Township are going to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary the same way they got married … by themselves.
But before they toast each other on Aug. 3 at a meal at a favorite local restaurant, the Stoners received a surprise without leaving their property.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Susquehannock High School graduates couldn’t have the party they wanted. So, their family and friends devised a plan to surprise them with a drive-by parade.
The Stoners’ daughters, Diana Nathan and Jennifer Hensley, live in California and Kansas, respectively, and knew they couldn’t come in for the celebration. They enlisted the help of a local friend of their parents, and invited people to participate in a surprise parade.
Neighbors, church friends and family gathered at Mazie Gable Elementary School and waited. Some decorated their vehicles, some brought balloons and bells.
But how do you get the couple outside at the right time to see the parade?
Diana and Jennifer did what many people, businesses and groups have been doing during the pandemic.
They held a Zoom call.
At the end of the call, the Stoners were told to sit in their driveway in a pair of chairs put there by neighbor Tom Ensminger. They were told to Facetime with Diana, who secretly let the participants know they could start their parade.
Tom and Missi Ensminger were first in line in a vintage 1962 MGA, followed by Jeff and Julie Beard in their 1913 Model T. More than two dozen vehicles followed, with horns blaring, hazard lights blinking and neighbors in surrounding houses coming out to watch.
Some slowed down to drop off cards and balloons. Some drove around the block more than once. Each one was given a wave from the happy … and surprised … couple.
“When I saw the chairs, I knew something was going on, I figured someone was going to drive by,” Dick Stoner, 80, said. “But I never expected this.”
Originally, they were going to have a big party, similar to one that was held 10 years ago at Heritage Hills. But like many people, those plans were dashed.
Instead, Monday’s celebration is going to be a bit more low key.
“Three of our cousins are going to come over for brunch,” Mary Stoner said, “and then later we will go to dinner.”
It will just be the two of them at dinner, just like it was for their wedding.
The couple, who met at the Maryland Line Carnival in 1956, were married by a Lutheran minister at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1960, far away from family and friends in Pennsylvania.
Mary, 78, flew to Alaska in July, 1960, shortly after graduating from Susquehannock.
“I went into the Air Force after high school, and she flew to me after she graduated,” Dick Stoner said. “We decided to get married. The minister didn’t want to marry us, said we were too young and it wasn’t going to last.”
“We saw that minister at a Lutheran Church in Germany five years later and told him, ‘see, we’re still together’,” Mary said.
Dick was in the Air Force for 21 years, moving his family from place to place, including that three-year stint in Germany, where Jennifer was born.
Two of Dick’s 10 surviving siblings, he lost two brothers, rode in Saturday’s parade. Neither Ruth Ecker of Manchester Township nor Kathryn Stine of York Township knew about the wedding when it happened, they said. And while Kathryn said she was surprised to hear about 60 years ago, Ruth wasn’t.
“They were together all through high school,” she said.
The Stoners, who have seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, realize it takes some luck to reach a milestone like this. But it takes more than that, too.
“It’s give and take,” Dick said as he draped his arm along the back of his wife’s chair. “It’s hard work.”
“It’s a choice to love someone,” Mary said. “And you have to think about the commitment you are making.”
Shelly Stallsmith is a trends reporter for the York Daily Record. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter at @ShelStallsmith.