It was true love seven decades in the making for Katie Smith, 89, and Ed Sellers, 88, who tied the knot on July 16 at Community Pentecostal Center in Stanley, North Carolina.
The teenage sweethearts dated in the early 1940s at ages 14 and 15 years old under very strict religious guidelines that only allowed a chaperoned courtship.
“She’d tell me about her ex-boyfriend Ed Sellers and the old days and how they didn’t used to date like they do now,” Katie Smith’s granddaughter, Stefanie Helsel, told ABC News of her grandmother’s memories of her long-lost love. “She actually made him wait about two years before she’d let him kiss her. The biggest part of their courtship is that they’d have to sit on the couch there with a chaperone in the living room, or her sisters had to sit on the couch. It dwindled out because it was so stifled because of the constraints on their dating.”
The two grew apart and went on to marry other people to have happy, lifelong marriages until they were both widowed. Smith’s husband passed away 17 years ago from cancer and Sellers’ wife died four years ago after battling the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
But they had never forgotten about each other.
“About a year and a half ago he got the nerve to call her,” Helsel recalled.
“I came and got her number out of the phone book and started calling and she wouldn’t answer for a while,” Sellers said of driving from his home in Kannapolis to Stanley, about 45 minutes away, where he knew Smith lived.
When they finally reconnected, he said they “picked up where we left off.”
“They had not seen each other for about 70 years,” said Helsel. “They hit it off and they rekindled a friendship and the friendship grew to seem like they hadn’t even been apart. He would visit her twice a week because she’s very religious so he could never stay over. Wednesday and Sunday he’d stay with her in the morning and drive back in the evening. He probably asked her for six months to marry him and she finally agreed. He tells the story that he doesn’t have enough fingers and toes to count the times he asked.”
The wedding was a family affair with Smith’s daughter officiating and about 50 other relatives in attendance. As Helsel began planning the ceremony with her mom, they realized the nuptials would last longer than expected with all the grandchildren and great-grandchildren wanting to participate in ways to make the big day special, so they had to come up with a clever solution to allow the elderly bride and groom to sit throughout the ceremony: rocking chairs.
"My mom and I were talking and thinking, 'There's no way they’re going to be able to stand up the whole time," said Helsel. "We got to thinking about their rocking chairs, their golden years. I was like, 'I think we could pull this off. Let’s just go all out and do a rocking chair wedding.'"
“It was great,” said Smith.
“It was wonderful,” Sellers added.
Ever loyal to their late spouses, Cecil Smith and Dot Sellers, the newlyweds honored them with their pictures displayed at the ceremony.
“She felt hesitant to let herself open up to love again because she didn’t ever want do anything to dishonor her husband. And him too, he’ll always say that,” Helsel said of her beloved grandmother and her new husband. “At their wedding, we gave tribute to both of their spouses. He was married 67 years, and her 54 years when my grandfather died. These are lifetimes together with these spouses. They’re not trying to replace them, they’re just happy to have a companion and comfort in the last years of their lives.”
Smith and Sellers admit how lucky they are to have not only found true love once, but twice, in their lifetime.
“I was always taught that when you got married, you married ‘til death. And that’s the way we looked at it. And we were, and we will again,” Smith said of saying “I do” for the second time.
The bride’s favorite part of the big day?
“When they said, ‘I pronounce you man and wife,’” Smith told ABC News.