“I Do” at 87 and 86

Widow and widower come full circle, getting married June 4 at Starkdale Presbyterian Church where they met in Sunday School class during the 1940s

A couple having a church wedding on any given Saturday in June isn’t exactly man-bites-dog news on the surface.

But for George Allan and Joan Carpenter, their wedding day June 4 at Starkdale Presbyterian Church in Steubenville blends nostalgia, irony and a full-circle finish.

The ceremony officiated by the Rev. Carl Moore united the 87-year-old widower and 86-year-old widow who met as an 11- and 10-year-old in Sunday School class during the 1940s at Starkdale Presbyterian, a house of worship with a special significance for the couple in many unique ways.

They reflected on that and how their lives connected and intertwined through the years, ultimately leading them to embark on a new chapter they never expected as husband and wife.

“Destiny,” it was in the groom’s estimation.

It’s not the first time George and Joan got married at Starkdale — it was just to different people.

George and Marjorie “Marge” Gall — both graduates of Wintersville High School’s Class of 1952 — got hitched in June 1955.

A 1954 WHS graduate, Joan said “I do” to Duane Carpenter, a 1952 WHS graduate and George’s best friend. They wed in December 1954, with George a member of the wedding party.

“Duane and George were best friends in high school and junior high and all the way through stayed in touch on this long journey we’ve had,” explained Joan, whose father, the Rev. J.K. McDivitt, was Starkdale’s first minister, serving there until 1959.

Joan’s father not only officiated at her wedding, but also at George’s.

The preaching position is what brought the McDivitt family to the area from Columbiana.

“He came to the old Third Presbyterian Church in Steubenville to begin with and then he was also the minister at Two Ridges and at Cross Creek, and they combined and formed Starkdale,” Joan said. “Starkdale started in 1947, but we came to Steubenville in 1946, right after the war. He was a chaplain in World War II,” she said of her father.

All of the ironies aren’t lost on the newlyweds, who’ll make their home in Steubenville and be active at, not surprisingly, Starkdale Presbyterian Church.

“George and I met in Sunday school when we were ages 10 and 11, and, I mean, it’s just crazy,” Joan said. “We were both married in that church to our former spouses, and George was in our wedding.”

Fast forward decades later and Joan is exchanging vows with the man who was her late husband’s best friend and in the church where her father preached from the pulpit.

George and Joan have been together through the years staying in touch because of friendship.

“We were together so much with Sunday school and church, we both sang in the choir. We had youth fellowship, we had choir practice. We were in school together. I mean, it was just all through our lives we’ve been together, and then our spouses were good friends, and he married Marge Gall out of that same class, and I guess I went from one best friend to the other,” Joan said.

Though their lives took different directions, the couples stayed connected through the years.

After high school, George studied at the College of Steubenville, earning a degree in education.

“I spent 47 years in education and 29 of those in Indian Creek and the rest with the Educational Service Center in Steubenville,” he said. He retired in 2012. Marge was a bank teller before her retirement. The Allans had two daughters — Georgia Dawson of Dublin, Ohio, and Joyce Smith of Loveland, Ohio. They have six grandsons.

While George and Marge stayed local, Joan and Duane lived for the most part in Norwalk, Ohio, moving eventually to Meadville, Pa., and then to Shelbyville, Ky., where Duane died in 2012. After that, Joan moved to Florida, where she only recently retired after a more than 40-year career as a music teacher of the piano, organ and keyboard. Duane had worked as a computer programmer for a heavy highway construction company.

The Carpenters had five children — one son, Don Carpenter of Conneaut Lake, Pa., and four daughters — Karen Vallis and Melissa Tokar, both of New Orleans; Lori Grose of Largo, Fla.; and Andrea Colich, a missionary in Papau, New Guinea, with her husband since 1988.

For Joan, the extended family includes 17 grandchildren, 29 great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren.

The couples’ friendship never waned.

“Duane and I celebrated our 50th in 2004, and George and Marge came for that because of their being in our wedding, we had everybody back, although there weren’t too many left by then, but they came up. We were living in Pennsylvania,” Joan said. “Through the years we saw each other often,” she added.
Joan and Duane were married for 56 years when he died in 2010.

George became a widower in 2019 after Marge’s five-year battle with Parkinson’s Disease ended. They had been married 54 years.

After their longtime marriages ended, neither George or Joan envisioned marriage to anyone would be in their future, let alone to each other.

Joan said she and George talked for the first time in a while about a year and a half ago when Starkdale marked a special milestone.

“It was the church’s 70th, and since I was an original member, I was invited back to all their reunions,” she said of what was a tradition.

The real reconnection took root when Joan called George on Valentine’s Day 2021.

“I just wanted to know how he was doing,” explained Joan, who had made her home in Florida in Freeport, just outside Destin, after becoming a widow.

“She was calling, according to her version of it, to see how I was doing with being alone and grieving,” George said. “She was being very kind, giving me a call.”

Joan offered details on how the relationship progressed from that point.

“We had talked different times, he and Duane had talked, and I kept track of what was going on with them, and I just wanted to see how he was doing, and then last summer, two of my daughters and I took a road trip to Pennsylvania to stay with my son,” Joan said.

“We all drove up together in my car, and then they flew back home, and I stayed a month with my son, and I thought, well, I’m only two hours away from Steubenville, I’m just going to call George,” she continued. “I was going to stay with my sister-in-law there, and he said, ‘No, no, no, we’re going to get to know each other a little bit better,’ so I stayed a week, and then two months later, I flew up there and flew into Cincinnati and met his daughter for the first time, and she drove me to Steubenville. I was going to stay two weeks, but we ended up, he flew home with me on the 19th of December and spent Christmas here,” Joan explained.

The following month, George popped the question.

“He proposed to me on the 10th of January up in the air over the Gulf of Mexico,” she said, leaving the storytelling of that to George.

“Well, we were having lunch in a restaurant three days before that, and a helicopter came down close to the restaurant, and I said to Joan, ‘Did you see that?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, there’s a helicopter pad not far from here, and a company that takes people on rides,’ and I said to her, ‘Would you like to do that?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, I’ve done it once before. I’d like to do it again.’ So we called and scheduled a ride, I guess two or three days from that time, and I thought, you know, I was prepared to ask her to marry me, and I wanted it to be something she would remember, and I thought this is it. This is the time. So I wrote a note because I knew I didn’t want to talk because I knew there’d be at least one other person in the plane, the pilot, so I wrote a note, and I said at the top, don’t scream, and then I said, Will you marry me? and I had two little boxes — a yes box to check and a no box to check, and then I had, ‘I will kiss you on the ground,’ so that’s how she accepted. She didn’t have a pen so she couldn’t check the yes box, but she pointed at that,” he added.

“That’s where it happened — over the Gulf of Mexico and over Destin, and God was with me that day. I want to tell you this aspect of the story,” George said. “If I would have decided to verbally propose to her, we were connected. We had headsets on, and we were connected to the pilot, so if I had said to her over the intercom, will you marry me? he might have said ‘yes,’ and I’d have been in a fix,” George joked.

“We have a picture after we landed. I’m holding the note up, and you can see the pilot still sitting in the helicopter, and he’s got his thumb up,” Joan said.

In the beginning of their relationship, the Ohio-Florida distance that they lived apart was an issue in George’s mind.

“I didn’t know how we would overcome that. I didn’t like the idea of being so far apart,” he said. “We did not know, we’re kind of just taking it a day at a time, a step at a time, but we gradually kind of knew that we were more than just friends, and we gradually became more and more fond of each other, and when I proposed, then we started to think about what do we do next,” George continued.

“We did not like the idea of living together. We thought God wants us to be married as his word says, and so that’s what we did,” he said. “Joan made a big sacrifice because I have a medical condition with my heart that I need to stay close to my doctors in Columbus, so she is giving up her home in Florida.”

The couple will begin their new life together in Steubenville and are spending their honeymoon in Florida, packing.
Their wedding plans began to take shape in the spring.

“We both knew we wanted to be married in the same church we had both been married before,” Joan said. “It’s very nostalgic and kind of hard to grasp the whole thing because it’s like going back in time,” she said, pointing out that she’ll become a member of Starkdale again for the first time in 76 years.

Their families have been supportive and excited on their behalf.

“Well, they all want us to be happy,” Joan said, noting two of her daughters gave her away at the wedding.

About 70 family members and friends were in attendance with a luncheon reception in the fellowship hall afterward.

“It was a really nice day, everything just kind of fell into place nicely, but family and friends accepted it so well, we couldn’t get over it. There was no question about their support,” he said.

George pointed out one other point of irony related to Starkdale and himself and his new bride.

“Our oldest daughters were baptized the same day at Starkdale by Joan’s father,” he said.

“We viewed last Saturday as sort of completing that circle because we had both been married in Starkdale by her dad to different spouses and then we had children baptized by her father and now we’re back in the original church where her father was the first minister,” George said.

“We have a rich history in Starkdale and a lot of connections, a lot of ironies.”