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Local couple share secret to successful marriage

Amanda Marsh • Dec 13, 2012 at 9:14 AM

Jack and Phyllis Meece haven’t always called East Tennessee their home. In fact, these "transplants" from Decatur, Illinois have more than 70 years’ worth of funny stories, tough luck and love.

"For better or worse, sickness and health, we’ve done them all," Jack said.

"But I would do it all again," Phyllis said.

The couple received a lot of attention from a recent anniversary announcement they submitted to the Johnson City Press to celebrate 67 years of marriage. The "then and now" photos showed a young wide-eyed beauty and her handsome groom in his Navy uniform.

The two exchanged "I do’s" on Nov. 11, 1945, just after Jack returned from a 13-month stint on the USS Colorado toward the end of World War II. Phyllis had 11 days to prepare for her wedding, and a dress was hard to come by.

"This is the first dress I could find," Phyllis said as she glanced at her dress, which is on display in her home. "They were making parachutes, so dresses were not important."

The price tag was $45 for her gown and $12.50 for her veil, a drop in the bucket compared to today. The large bouquets she and her bridal party held made them look like they were all winners in a beauty pageant. The flowers were $60.

Phyllis still has all the receipts from her wedding day expenditures, along with her first engagement ring and wedding band, another $35 investment.

"You could almost see the diamond with a magnifying glass," she said with a laugh.

Luckily, Jack and Phyllis have wonderful photos that document their big day, which is rare. Phyllis’ father made his living as a photographer and he was there to snap a picture of his daughter cutting the cake.

According to Phyllis, her father didn’t get too excited when the subject of marriage came up. Jack is a year older and, before he went to war, he asked Phyllis to be his wife. She was a senior in high school at the time, so needless to say, Phyllis’ father wasn’t thrilled.

He warmed up to the idea though, especially since Jack had been a part of Phyllis’ life for several years. The two lived a block apart and had met while Jack was on his paper route. Phyllis was 14 years old and Jack was 15 and she remembers their first date was on Easter Sunday.

"One reason I liked him so much was that he was tall," she said. "All the others were little shrimpy things."

They had a ball through their high school years playing Pinochle with friends, walking to the movie theatre and having picnics.

"We used to jitterbug all the time," Phyllis said. "The band left at midnight, but we all took up money for them to continue playing until 2 a.m."

The newlyweds honeymooned in Chicago for $10 per night with Jack’s servicemen discount.

"We were head over heels and just so in love," Phyllis said.

Since becoming husband and wife, Jack says they’ve "toughed it out together" - first living in a small two-room house with no shower where Phyllis had to hand-wash the diapers of her firstborn child. They lived on a meager $125 a month.

"Everyone was looking for jobs and everyone was poor, so we didn’t think too much of it," Phyllis said.

They had three children and eventually bought their dream home in Decatur. The couple also ran the Meece family business, a downtown luggage and leather goods shop called Decatur Trunk, which had to close its doors when shopping malls took over.

The Meeces moved to Elizabethton in 1996 to be near their daughter Debra. Recently, as the pace of their life has slowed a bit, they’ve been able to reflect on their journey. The couple have played golf in 21 states, taken countless bus trips and cruises, and spent winters in Florida.

"Now that we’re old, we just enjoy being able to sit here together," said Jack, who turned 87 years old last month. His bride is 86.

With their hands clasped together and as Phyllis’ engagement ring sparkled, the two talked about the health issues each of them has battled, as well as the death of their daughter, Pamela. At the age of 80, Phyllis got a tattoo of a butterfly on her ankle in Pamela’s memory.

Throughout this lifelong adventure, the couple have discovered the secret to a successful marriage.

"We were friends first," Phyllis said. "And I think our faith has pulled us through 12 surgeries, advanced uterine cancer, and you just keep praying and putting yourself in God’s hands."

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