They knew they were meant to be together|[07/14/08]

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 14, 2008

Love has many different faces. For Elijah and Ethel Baldwin, wrinkles have come with time – but nothing can disguise the way their eyes still sparkle when they look at each other.

The Baldwins were married almost 74 years ago in Shaw. Saturday at the Vicksburg Convalescent Home the couple celebrated the milestone in their lives with a vow-renewal ceremony attended by family, friends and residents.

“It was the staff’s idea to have the wedding,” said activities director Amie LaSalle. “We joke around with them and call them our ‘sexiest couple’ and they’ll just laugh. When we first came up with this idea they both thought we were joking, but then we called the family and they loved the idea as well.”

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Elijah Baldwin, 97, and Ethel Baldwin, 94, are both residents at the convalescent home on Cherry Street and staff members say they are rarely seen without each other. “They share a room, they sit in the lobby together and they eat every meal together. If she is in a room, he will be sitting by her,” LaSalle said.

Elijah Baldwin has been a resident for three years; Ethel Baldwin arrived just months ago. Up until the time she moved in, Ethel Baldwin came every week to eat dinner with her husband.

Now she says she is happy they can be together all the time again.

“He’s a good man,” said Ethel Baldwin.

The Baldwins met in 1934 and Elijah Baldwin said he was enamored with his wife from that moment on.

“I loved her the first time I saw her,” said Elijah Baldwin.

The pair began dating, and both say they immediately knew they were meant to be together.

On a rainy Nov. 4, 1934, night Elijah Baldwin went to Ethel’s home and asked her parents for their daughter’s hand in marriage. With approval received, Elijah and Ethel Baldwin drove that very night to a preacher’s house and were married.

Since that moment, according to a program printed for the celebration, the Baldwins’ love has endured the “trials and tests of time,” including the election of 12 presidents, four wars and seven documented national recessions.

Time has also brought them four children, 13 grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.

“They’ve always been a loving couple,” said one daughter, Ethel Dixon of Clinton. “They’re just good people. My mom stayed home and took care of us and my dad always loved gardening – he used to win ‘yard of the month’ competitions in our neighborhood in Kings. My dad worked hard. He believed in that.”

Today the couple appears more in love than ever.

“He still looks at her like she’s 19,” said LaSalle. “I mean, just to be married this long let alone still desire each other’s company like they do. Most marriages today don’t last 10 years, so 74 is a big thing.”

Because Ethel Baldwin never had the chance to have a big wedding, both the convalescent home staff and the Baldwin family put their hearts and their time into making Saturday a special day for the couple.

“We just wanted them to have these memories,” said Lasalle. “We just all wanted it to be so special so when we began to get a large amount of support from the community we were overwhelmed and so thankful.”

‘I loved her the first time I saw her.’ELIJAH BALDWINHUSBAND OF 74 YEARSThe majority of the wedding was donated by area companies and individuals: Office Max did the invitations, A.L. Tanner Jewelers donated wedding bands, Pamela Derman donated her services as a wedding planner, Georgia Hicks donated the wedding cakes, Wanda Foster donated all the flowers, Michael Washington volunteered his photography skills, Dillard’s offered Ethel Baldwin’s makeup, Paper Plus personalized napkins for the reception and Kroger and Wal-Mart donated food.

In addition, Ameristar Hotel and Casino donated a limousine ride and a room for the honeymoon night. Tammie Mason, RN, stayed in a room adjoining the Baldwins and donated silk pajamas for the couple to wear that night.

“Ameristar’s executive chef called and got their order for a three-course meal he was going to make them that night. They picked baked fish, mashed potatoes and greens; exactly what we have here every week,” laughed LaSalle. “They did tell the chef to surprise them with the dessert, though.”

The bride wore a new, white suit for her special day and the groom wore a tux with a pink bow tie. Ethel Baldwin chose pink as her wedding color and the room was a mass of pink clothing and flowers; even the nurses wore pink scrubs to celebrate the occasion.

Elijah was wheeled down the aisle by his best man, son-in-law Alfred Gene Dixon, Jr. Ethel was a bit delayed coming down the aisle because she was talking on the phone, something the staff says she loves to do, but was smiling as her grandson Edward Baldwin wheeled her down the aisle to her husband.

The pair held hands during the ceremony and though they had to be prompted to say “I do” and required assistance to put their rings on, the reverend only had to say “you may kiss the bride” once before Elijah Baldwin, with no help and no instruction, leaned over and planted a kiss on his wife.

“She looked so beautiful,” said Ethel Baldwin Dixon. “They’ve always loved each other and they’ve always been good role models. They helped us with our married lives and gave us good advice.”

Daughter-in-law and matron-of-honor, Vivian Baldwin agrees.

“I came from Chicago to marry their son,” Vivian Baldwin says. “Not long after, my mother died. (Ethel) came to me and said not to worry because she would be my mother. Since then she has always stood by me. They’ve both been right there with me. When she came down the aisle I was all tears. They’re nothing but joy. They’re pure joy.”

“It means a whole lot (to see this day),” said son of the couple Elijah Baldwin, Jr. of Greenwood.

When asked what the secret to 74 years of happy marriage is the couple just laughed.

“It’s a good secret to know,” Ethel Baldwin said, adding that she believes it is something everyone must find out on their own.

“It’s just the help of the good Lord,” Elijah Baldwin said, adding, “It seems like it’s only been a few years.”