Couple in viral anniversary photo shoot credits 'hard work' for 72-year marriage

Hope Schreiber

A 91-year-old man’s glowing reaction to an anniversary surprise has been enthralling the internet ever since the video footage went viral on social media earlier this month.

In the video, Leonard Matties is surprised by his wife Shirley, also 91, as she appears in a frothy pink gown in celebration of 72 years of marriage. The encounter took place at Grace Manor Care Center in Burlington, Colo., where the couple resides.

When Ardis Behrendsen, a certified nursing assistant at the nursing center, learned that the couple would be celebrating such a milestone, she wanted to do something to make the day extra special, especially after hearing that the couple’s family was planning an anniversary party. That’s when Behrendsen went home and ordered Shirley the extra-special dress.

"Her daughter has been talking about their anniversary, and ever since I started in the nursing field, I have done these types of things," she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. "I never really had to think about it. I just got online and ordered her a dress. [Shirley and Leonard are] just like all my other patients... They turn into my family, too."

On the day of the couple's anniversary, Behrendsen wheeled Shirley, in her wheelchair, out of her room and right up to Leonard, whose delight was captured on video.

"Look, she's a beautiful bride today," Behrendsen says in the video, shared to Facebook.

"Yes, she is," Leonard replies.

One of the couple's seven children, Carolyn Martell, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that her mother has dementia, but that on that day, she had no problem recognizing the man she said "I do" to so many years before.

In the video taken during Shirley’s grand reveal, she reaches out to take Leonard’s hand and says, "How 'bout that, Len."

Behrendsen, who has been working at the senior living facility for 13 years, said that moment was the "most beautiful experience" of her career.

"When I put that dress on her, and her makeup, and put the jewelry on her, her mind just came back. It was incredible," Behrendsen tells Yahoo.

Martell and the family noticed the change, as well.

"Mother loved being dressed up. She sparkled," Martell says. "That day, we thought she talked better and she seemed so happy."

Martell says that her parents had been farmers their entire lives, and the hard work they put into the land together was also the secret to their long-lasting marriage. According to Leonard, a relationship needs "hard work,” while Shirley credits their decades-long romance to "working together."

“Leonard and Shirley are such a beautiful example of what true love is and prove that when you truly love someone, you fix what is broken and love each other through all the hard times you may face,” Behrendsen wrote on Facebook. “I can’t even begin to tell you how it felt to witness so much love and emotion today, seeing the look on Leonard’s face when I brought Shirley out was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.”

"Thank you Leonard and Shirley for reminding me what life is all about, you are truly an inspiration to me," Behrendsen wrote. "I love you both."

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