Edgar and Elsie Alley of Church Hill share a unique bond. The husband and wife celebrated their 72nd wedding anniversary in December of 2013 and were recently recognized as "the longest married couple in the great state of Tennessee" for the year 2014 by the Worldwide Marriage Encounter (WWME).
The Alleys were surprised by WWME with a certificate to authenticate their overwhelming achievement at an anniversary reception thrown for them by family and close friends on March 29, 2014. Although humbled by the honor, the (still) happy couple believes that God has blessed them with 72 years together - years filled with joy and likewise hardship - and that has been reward in itself.
"It's been a good life," Edgar Alley said with a knowing expression on his face. "All I can say is [Elsie's] been a good wife."
Lifelong residents of the region, Edgar Alley and his wife Elsie (Fields) Alley were born within five months of each other in 1922. Elsie was born in Virginia and Edgar in Hawkins County, Tenn., where both were raised.
As children, Elsie went to Vale Summit School in Hawkins County while Edgar attended Okolona School in the same county. However, it wasn't until the two were 17 years old that their paths crossed and their lives intertwined.
"We met in church at [Plum Grove in Hawkins County]," Edgar said with a wide grin. "We dated awhile and then we got to go on record."
Outgoing by nature, Edgar said he knew early on in his courtship with reserved and soft-spoken Elsie Fields that he wanted to marry her. Edgar got a job with Eastman when he turned 18 - the beginning of his 41-year career with the company - and a year later, the young lovebirds decided to elope.
"We just didn't want to have a big wedding," Edgar explained. "So, I got our marriage license and, on Dec. 19, 1941, we went out on a date and got married at Okolona Church parsonage, just the two of us."
Edgar chuckled as he recalled attending a Christmas party directly after the elopement where his cousin Carl teased he and Elsie, ironically asking, "Where you all been, getting married?"
The following year, the Alleys faced their first obstacle as newlyweds when Edgar entered the Army, serving a four-year stint (1942-1946) in the Pacific during and after World War II.
"It was rough, but [Elsie and I] made it," Edgar said. "I was stationed in Hawaii first, then different Pacific islands and eventually Japan.
"I drove the first vehicle ashore in mainland Japan when the war ended," Edgar said. Remembering the Japanese children waving little American Flags, Edgar said "they were as proud of the war being over as we were."
When Edgar returned to Church Hill in 1946, he and Elsie wasted little time starting a family. Their son, Ronald Alley was born in 1947 and their daughter, Linda Alley - now Linda Bruner - was born shortly thereafter.
Edgar said when Linda was 22-months-old, she and Elsie were in a car accident so severe that they weren't expected to live. Linda's skull was completely crushed in three places and a silver plate - which she still has today - was placed in her head. Elsie sustained critical injuries as well, having to undergo shoulder surgery and a hip replacement.
"[Mom's] been through a lot," Linda Bruner said.
Despite all odds, however, the Alley family continued to expand. Their son, Ronald, married Carol Bellamy and took up residence on Caney Valley Loop in Surgoinsville. Their daughter, Linda, married J. T. Bruner and lives on Shelby Street in Church Hill. Both couples celebrated their 43rd wedding anniversaries last year, no doubt due to Edgar and Elsie's example.
Edgar and Elsie Alley now have three grandchildren (Tonya, Kishon and Julie) and five great-grandchildren (Lauren, Kara, Cailyn, Griffin and Dalen).
Outside spending time with their ever-growing family, "we've done a lot of traveling" over the years, Edgar said. We've been to all the states in the union except Alaska. Elsie spoke of how amazing the Midwest was, seeing the beautiful turquoise blue of the Western sky and visiting the Badlands, Petrified Forest and Redwood Forest National Parks. Edgar added that, at a museum, they once got to chat with the late Slim Pickens.
Edgar and Elsie Alley have stood by each other in good times and in bad. They've built not only a life, but a lifetime together. The pair agreed the key to maintaining their long and healthy marriage has been trusting in the Lord, putting Him first in everything, and being slow to anger. Slow, indeed. Linda Bruner said her parents have never argued or so much as raised their voices to one another, or anyone else for that matter.
"How I've stayed married this long ... I've said 'Yes ma'am,'" Edgar said with a telling smile.