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Old 12-03-2008, 04:00 AM
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Smile It took 60+ years

For couple, lifetime separates prom date, marriage
By TOM ALESIA | Wisconsin State Journal

In spring 1947, they attended Madison Central High School’s prom together. She wore an elegant dress purchased by a grateful family for which she did housework during World War II. He was 19, on break from his post-war stint in the Marines. Sporting sharp military attire, he attracted admiration. A Central teacher, acknowledging the young man’s uniform, asked the couple to lead the event’s first dance.

“I didn’t dance,” she says now with a laugh, “and he didn’t dance.”

They enjoyed prom. They were childhood friends, neighbors from Madison’s close-knit South Side. A few days later, he returned to his California base; she finished high school. They drifted far apart.

Last May, more than 60 years later, Dolly Matthews answered her phone and revived a friendship that blossomed into romance.

“Is this Dolly?” Jim Mayer asked. Dolly confirmed.

“Well, this is your prom king,” he said.

She stammered. “Jim? Jim Mayer?”

“Yes. And I’d like to take you to lunch.”

Both were widowed with great-grandchildren and decades of separate life experiences: some happiness, some hardship. After lunch, they drove around their old neighborhood, recalling friends and long-gone hangouts, like Bernie’s Grocery and Kleinheinz Pharmacy.

“It was like we picked up where we left off 60 years ago,” Mayer said.

They dated through the summer and fall. Mayer drove to Madison from La Crosse, his residence in recent years after working in Raleigh, N.C., and Philadelphia as an accounting manager. He turned 80 in September; she was 79 and still working as a bookkeeper at Dean Health Clinic on Fish Hatchery Road, a job she held for 32 years until retiring last month.

Life had not been easy for Matthews. Her husband died in 1970 of a heart attack. They were separated at the time and Matthews raised six children, separated by 18 years in age.

Mayer’s wife, Betty, died early last December after the couple had been married for 57 years.

Matthews at first hesitated upon hearing Mayer’s marriage proposal. She feared jumping too quickly. Then she accepted last September, although she admits not everyone in her family supported her. On Nov. 8, before nearly 250 people at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, they were married. Matthews walked down the aisle with one of her three grandsons escorting her every few feet, then kissing her and passing her on to the next person, eventually leading her to Mayer.

The couple lives in Madison now, a few blocks from their childhood residences. In December, they’ll drive to Arizona for a honeymoon. One wedding present hangs on their front door. The wood sign reads, “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be,” then announces: “Wish it. Dream it. Do it.”

The former prom couple is happy. Again.

“Being old doesn’t stop you from loving,” Matthews said. “My father used to tell me, "'Keep the child in you.’”
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