NISKAYUNA – When a young Clark University student, Ralph Lumb, took the hand of a young secretarial college student, Phyllis Wetherbee, little did he know that the two would still be holding hands 80 years later.
Ralph and Phyllis Lumb celebrate their 80th wedding anniversary, along with Phyllis’ 100th birthday today at Brookdale Niskayuna, an assisted living community.
“Back in the ’40s Clark University was an all-male school,” Ralph said during a Zoom interview with the couple on Tuesday. “One of the ways we got acquainted with the females in the area was to invite them from the different schools in the area for a dance and refreshments.
“It was my first year and I had little to no experience of what to expect at the university and this was a tradition at the university. I enjoyed music and I enjoyed dancing, so it was a very pleasant afternoon.”
In the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, a tea dance was a social gathering held in the summer and fall, offered from 4 to 7 p.m. grown out of the English afternoon tea tradition.
“They invited us girls in Worcester to get acquainted with these men who didn’t have anything to do,” Phyllis said. “We just met for the refreshments and dance.”
Unable to recall the exact details from their first meeting, Ralph’s response hit all the right notes.
“You’re challenging me to go back 80 years to remember,” the 99-year-old said. “She was an attractive girl and we hit it off well.
“I enjoyed dancing with her, so I followed up. That’s all I can say about it.”
The social gatherings were their main source of meeting.
“We really only saw each other at the dances,” Phyllis said. “He would invite me to the dances, we didn’t really date as you might say.”
Still, Ralph was smitten.
“I dated her a few times, about a year, maybe a little bit longer after we met,” Ralph said. “Then we decided we would sure like to be together more permanently.
“I was still in school, so it took a little while after we decided to get married.”
As a 19-year-old in Massachusetts, Ralph needed permission from his parents to be married in the Commonwealth.
His mother declined.
Ralph was resourceful and the couple agreed to elope.
“It was getting close to her birthday and we were going to celebrate her birthday with a trip to New York,” Ralph said.
During the trip, the couple received some timely news.
“We thought we had to wait a week [after receiving a marriage license] that there was a requirement,” Phyllis said. “They didn’t know anything about that requirement, so they married us that day.”
Feb. 11, 1941 – 80 years ago – Phyllis’ 20th birthday.
“The real key is saying Yes, Dear,” Ralph said, getting a chuckle out of Phyllis.
After leaving Clark University to join the Army Air Corps, he returned to finish his degree in chemistry and then earned his doctorate in physical chemistry.
He worked for the Atomic Energy Commission and traveled throughout the United States while Phyllis raised their eight children – three boys and five girls.
“He was away a lot on his business, and we got along better with him away,” Phyllis said with a wry smile. “With eight kids there were no thoughts of a divorce, just were no thoughts,” she added with a serious tone.
The two continued to make it a habit of stopping at nearby dance floors.
“We did a lot of dancing through the years, ballroom dancing, square dancing,” Ralph said. “We both enjoyed music and so we frequently went to live music restaurants.
“We got to know the bands quite well, interacted with the bands together and we really had a very enjoyable life as a consequence.”
The couple worked side-by-side as owners of a bed and breakfast in Connecticut for seven years before retiring to Florida in the 90’s.
In 2013 the couple moved to the greater Capital Region, living with their oldest child, Sandra, in South Westerlo before joining Brookdale Niskayuna in 2019.
During the past 80 years, Ralph and Phyllis have celebrated the birth of their eight children, 11 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and 2 great-great-grandchildren.
“We’ve had some very enjoyable years,” Ralph said. “We look back on those and say we created a lot of good memories, we’ve created a beautiful family that we’re very proud of, proud of the accomplishments of the family members. I feel quite satisfied with the 80 years.”
When asked for advice about a long, happy life together, the couple touched on wise investing and faith.
“I had two very good jobs, one was in a used book business, out of my home for 10 years,” Phyllis said. “Although I didn’t make a lot of money, I put away $75 a month for 10 years that I then invested in a KEOGH retirement plan, I am still getting now, $600 a month from it.”
Ralph said it was honoring the commitment he made 80 years ago to Phyllis.
“You’ve made a vow, keep that in mind that you’ve agreed to a lifetime together and you don’t want to break that vow,” Ralph said. “I think that’s very important to keep that in front of you, stick with it and that’s what we’ve done…that’s all.”