Dean and BettieWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally published April 19, 2009.
There are a lot of ways to measure 50 years. If you want to be technical, clinical, 50 years is 2,600 weeks, 18,200 days or 436,800 hours. If you want to be historical, chronological, there have been 11 presidents in the past 50 years.
On April 11, 1959, Dean Matheney married Bettie Hendrix. At a celebration at Perrysburg’s Belmont Country Club April 11, 2009, friends and family gathered to celebrate their 50 years of marriage.
It is tempting to praise Dean and Bettie’s grace and commitment at the expense of reality, to let their life together assume rose-colored hues of American perfection. No marriage is without challenge and cloudy weather, however, and Dean and Bettie would protest any attempts to aggrandize their partnership as anything über-special. But the temptation lingers.
There were many living testaments to their 50 years of marriage at the April 11 celebration. First and foremost, their sons, Steve and Tim, were there to reminisce and share stories. Tim, with whom I have been friends since first grade, is one of the defining influences on my life. He is the most intelligent light I follow, and his achievements — as a graduate of St. John’s Jesuit High School, the University of Michigan, Princeton University and as principal at South Brunswick High School in New Jersey — set a high standard of service and dedication to education. Tim is godfather to our first son, Evan, a choice as close to a foregone conclusion as anything we’ll do with our sons.
Dean and Bettie also had their three grandchildren at their side April 11 — Erin, Lauren and Evan. Evan, a freshman at The Ohio State University, sat at our table that night and spoke of his grandparents in reverent, loving tones, making a summer weekend of gardening sound like a life-experience summit, which, upon reflection, it probably was. Dean was the director of non-teaching personnel and an elementary school assistant for TPS. Bettie was a paraprofessional in the Title 1 reading program for TPS. Tim and Steve stressed their parents’ emphasis on education, service and family during their comments at the dinner, but their accomplishments more than illustrate the point.
My parents did not stay together. Our mother was incapacitated by a muscular disease, and our father lived his life outside our home. To me, a weekly or biweekly visit with him was the norm. I never questioned that environment, because that was all I knew.
It was late 1970s and early 1980s visits to the Matheney household that showed me an alternative. Dean was home with his family, every night. They had dinner together, at one table. Dean interacted with Tim and Steve on matters of school and life.
I saw a similar scenario at the home of my friend John Bleau. His parents, Bill and Delores, who are just a few years from their 50th wedding anniversary, were similarly active in John and his sister Cindy’s lives, and were there. Again, I’m not coloring any of these people as perfect, but I can’t overemphasize how important being there was, and what an impact seeing that had on my understanding of what a family could be.
At some point I began to understand that my reference point for family was perhaps not all it could be. Dean and Bill were the first adults outside of a school setting who treated me, not as a child, but as a young adult, and they listened, even when the things I was saying weren’t as mature or grounded as they should have been. I won’t place the burden of father figure or father by proxy on these men, as they shouldn’t shoulder any of the blame for my mistakes and flaws, but a lot of my framework for being a husband and father, I learned from them.
Seeing Dean and Bettie, surrounded by 50-year-old photos and mementos, enveloped by family and friends, I can see the payoff, in love and strength, that results from working to stay in a marriage for more than half a lifetime. Bettie faces some health challenges that make these days bittersweet. And just like he has been for 50-plus years, Dean is there, and his tender, watchful eyes keep Bettie in view, his arms embrace her and his heart colors his every word and expression for her.
Every Christmas, my wife and I take our two young boys to Dean and Bettie’s for a visit. My sons are far too young to understand the triumph that Bettie and Dean represent, but as they grow, I hope they know enough about them to understand what an impact they had on their own father, and what a standard has been set for me and my wife to pass on to them. Coupled with the example set by their maternal grandparents, Kit and Kay Scott, there are more than enough role models to learn from.
I won’t live to see my sons Evan and Sean celebrate their 50th wedding anniversaries, but when they do, I hope they remember Dean and Bettie, and Bill and Delores, and Kit and Kay. And their own mom and dad, which may represent the greatest triumph of all.
Bettie Matheney died Nov. 10. Dean was at her side. This is the first time my little boys have seen me cry, and I am going to make it an opportunity to begin teaching them the lessons Dean and Bettie taught me.
As soon as I can stop.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Contact him at email@example.com.