Vickroy: Married later in life, newlyweds say true love is ageless
Youth may be wasted on the young, but love doesn’t have to be.
Laverne and James Reed Jr., both in their 60s, were married a month ago. The newlyweds believe their long friendship and history of overcoming hardship, in addition to their compatible personalities, make their love special — so special that they don’t need Valentine’s Day to spark things up.
“Love really is all about taking care of each other,” James said, patting Laverne’s hand, “whether it’s Valentine’s Day or any other day.”
“We just always want to be mindful of caring for each other, regardless of what day it is,” Laverne said, pausing to gaze into James’ eyes, and adding, “but if you want to get me a gift, that’s OK, whatever.”
Dressed in sharp suits, the Country Club Hills couple sat down with us this week in the lobby of Victory Centre at Sierra Ridge senior apartment complex to chat about the long, winding road that led to their recent marriage.
“We have an easy relationship,” Laverne said. “We’re good friends.”
“And we’re good for each other,” James, 64, said. “I think — no, I know — we have each other’s best interests at heart.”
A musician who loves gospel and blues, James plays bass guitar and often sings to Laverne.
Laverne, who says she is a “little older” than James, looks out for his health.
“She spanks my hand when I eat something bad,” James said, chuckling. “That’s love.”
Laverne and James met 15 years ago when they were named co-chairs of a new outreach ministry program at Covenant Faith Church, 10505 S. Halsted St., Chicago. Among the programs they started was a food pantry that continues to serve the hungry to this day.
“There is a lot of food insecurity out there, even more today,” said Laverne, who grew up in Chicago, moved to Arkansas and then to North Carolina before coming back to Chicago in 1995. While living in North Carolina, she earned a degree in industrial organizational psychology.
She also was married and divorced and raised two sons.
Her work as a special-needs substitute teacher and a social service provider led to her appointment in the church ministry.
At the time, James, a graduate of Calumet High School, had been married, divorced and then married again. He has a son from his first marriage.
His second wife, Betty, played piano and sang in the church choir. The couple had three children — two daughters and a son who was tragically killed by a drunken driver several years ago in Matteson.
Laverne said, “Betty had a beautiful voice. She was smart, talented and very attractive. As soon as I met her, I knew I wanted to be friends with her.”
The women ended up becoming best friends, spending a lot of time visiting, cooking and shopping.
In May 2003, Betty suffered an arteriovenous malformation, similar to an aneurysm, and collapsed in church. For months she languished at Rush University Medical Center. Then one day, James recalled, she just woke up and asked where she was.
“I was so happy to have her back,” he said.
In April 2011, the couple moved to Victory Centre. In fact, they moved right across the hall from Laverne, who had moved into the complex four years earlier.
“We had some great times,” Laverne said.
Five months later, however, Betty suffered a stroke and passed away.
It was a natural progression for James and Laverne’s friendship to lead to love.
“It was easy for me,” James said. “We were already good friends. We were already co-workers. We knew so much about each other.”
“James is an easy person to live with,” Laverne said. “I think I am, too.”
That’s not to say they agree on everything under the sun.
“We have our arguments. We had them when we were friends, too,” Laverne said.
“But,” James said, “after awhile we tend to agree.”
It’s the simple things, they say, that make a relationship work. And both believe the lessons learned from earlier divorces have helped them grow as human beings.
“It’s easier to get married now at an older age,” James said. “Back when I was married the first time, I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into it.”
His marriage to Betty, however, was a success, and so he expects his marriage to Laverne will be.
Laverne said, “I had a lot of time to really grow after my divorce. I learned a lot about relationships. Real marriage is a commitment, for better or for worse.”
In addition to the prayer walks and other social service programs they enjoy leading, both James and Laverne love music and trust in God’s plan for them.
“The Lord has helped us through bad times and he gives us strength to live on,” James said.
James, a retired truck driver, and Laverne were wed at their church. Laverne’s two sons gave her away; James’ two daughters gave him away.
Afterward, a reception was held at Beverly Woods restaurant, where they shared their first dance to the song, “Number One Friend,” by gospel group Tim Rogers and The Fellas.
They were able to get away to a “secret” place for a couple of days but have plans to visit family in Florida and North Carolina later. James would also like to head to Los Angeles to see his oldest son soon. One day, he’d like to take a cruise.
Like all couples, they have grand plans, but perhaps unlike their youthful counterparts, they understand the importance of cherishing the present.
“We make every day count,” James said.
“Laverne was a good friend to Betty and to me first,” James said. “I think Betty would be happy we’re together now. She loved us both.”