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VALENTINE'S DAY Award-winning couples have their hearts in the right place



Published: Mon, February 14, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Service and longevity in marriage are common to both couples.

YOUNGSTOWN -- Two area couples will receive more than candy, flowers and a card today. They'll spend Valentine's Day in Columbus as recipients of the Ohio Department of Aging's Joined Hearts in Giving awards.

The award honors couples who share a commitment to volunteer activity and who've been married at least 50 years.

You might think that criteria would narrow the field, but 23 Ohio couples will receive the award today, and two of those are from the Mahoning Valley.

The two couples -- Chuck and Dorothy Myers of Youngstown and Bill and JoAnne Carney of Poland -- are among 758 active volunteers in the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, which is run by Volunteer Services Agency. The agency serves Mahoning and southern Trumbull counties.

The Myerses and the Carneys were nominated for the statewide honor by Chuck Schiffhauer of Volunteer Services Agency.

Schiffhauer said he is impressed by the energy that these seniors bring to their volunteer work.

"They really are amazing," Schiffhauer said. "It is kind of unusual, I think, for both of them to be energetic and able-bodied. I think it does a lot of their mental well-being."

Chuck and Dorothy Myers

Dorothy Myers would probably be the first to say that she doesn't always feel energetic. At 88, she's plagued with back problems; the cold weather doesn't help much, she adds. "I'm not 29 anymore," she said with a chuckle.

But come Friday morning, Myers and her husband, Chuck, 84, usually head for St. Elizabeth Health Center, where they've worked side by side for more than 20 years. Their duties include sorting and delivering mail, delivering flower arrangements and helping out however they can.

The couple, who will celebrate their 63rd wedding anniversary this spring, didn't start out volunteering together. Dorothy, who had worked as a secretary at the YMCA, retired and started volunteering at the American Red Cross almost 25 years ago. At the time, Chuck was still working.

"When I retired, I knew that I could not just sit home and read all the time," Dorothy said. "I don'tdrive, and they had a van that would pick me up, and I'd go down there and volunteer."

When her husband retired in 1982, she hired him -- as her driver.

"I thought, 'Well, if I'm driving her, I might as well work too,'" Chuck said with a laugh. "Actually, she put it to me like this -- 'You need to find something to do. You're not going to sit around and bother me all day.'"

The couple met in early 1942 on a train traveling from Chicago to Youngstown. She was coming back from visiting a friend in Texas; he was also coming from Texas, where he was stationed with the Army.

A man seated in their car had too much to drink and was loud and loutish. Chivalrous Chuck walked back and asked the man to watch his language as there were ladies present. Then he walked over to where Dorothy was sitting alone and asked, "Would you like me to sit with you?"

She said yes and he sat down. By the time the train rolled into Youngstown at 7:30 a.m., they'd become good friends. Three months and many letters later, Dorothy once again traveled to Texas, where she and Chuck were wed.

Chuck pulled stateside duty in the early days of World War II, but he and other members of the 106th infantry shipped out to Belgium in 1944 and were promptly captured by the Germans. Dorothy, now back in Youngstown with two young sons, read about her husband's fate in The Vindicator before the Army could inform her. Because the Army couldn't be certain of Chuck's whereabouts and condition, his pay and benefits were suspended. Dorothy quickly had to find a sitter and go to work.

Within a few months, Chuck -- down to 140 pounds from 210 -- was liberated from the prisoner of war camp. He returned home after the war, and their family grew. Eventually, the couple had seven children. Now their family includes 12 grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and a great-great-grandchild.

They enjoy working at the hospital and plan to continue doing it as long as they can.

"I hope I never have to give it up," Dorothy said. "I sure wouldn't want to sit around the house watching TV. TV is the least of my exciting things to do."

For her, the secret for 63 years of happy marriage comes down to a single word: tolerance.

"If I get upset, I don't give him what-for," she said. "We all have our own special idiosyncrasies. You have to understand and forgive. Everything is not going to be apple pie all the time. It's tolerance and being forgiving."

Chuck laughs. "It's give and take -- she gives and I take. I say the secret to happiness is no back talk and a lot of 'yes, dear.'"

Bill and JoAnne Carney

This is a busy week for the Carneys. But then, most weeks are.

Today, they'll receive their Joined Hearts in Giving Award. On Tuesday, they'll celebrate their 53rd wedding anniversary. Bill is 77; his wife is 75.

What romantic event have they planned to mark this momentous occasion?

"Bill has a meeting," JoAnne said. "And since he'll be gone on Monday, I'll probably do laundry."

Adjusting her schedule to juggle homemaking duties and volunteer pursuits has been part of JoAnne's life as long as she can remember. Her mother brought her up with an attitude of service to others; when she was in junior high school during World War II, she rolled bandages for the American Red Cross and used her knitting skills to craft heavy-duty sweaters for sailors to wear on the frigid seas.

While a young homemaker, she was active in the Mahoning County Extension, teaching cooking, sewing and home budgeting. She always kept the family books, she said, mainly because that's what her mother did.

Bill worked full time but also found time to volunteer. He started out with AMVETS, helping out with the Juvenile Traffic Referral School. He also served two terms in the Ohio House of Representatives.

The couple met on a blind date in the summer of 1950. They went out with a group and had a good time dancing. Bill had served in World War II but had been called back to the reserves and was leaving in a few days.

JoAnne wrote letters to him -- "It was your patriotic duty to write a young man in the service" -- and he returned to Youngstown to visit his family over Thanksgiving. A record snowfall --36 inches -- meant that JoAnne's Trumbull County boyfriend couldn't get down to see her, but Bill could walk over. A romance was born. They were married in February 1952 and had one son.

In the late 1970s, the Carneys began rearing their two young grandsons. With the boys in their home, they pursued new avenues of volunteerism by getting involved in Boy Scouts.

JoAnne lent a hand to the Cub troop and Bill plunged into service with the Boy Scout troop, reactivating a troop that had gone inactive and eventually serving as assistant scoutmaster. Even though the grandsons are grown, Bill still works with the troop as a merit badge counselor.

A love of gardening

Bill's love of gardening has led to their work with Fellows Riverside Garden. JoAnne works in the visitor's center's library and helps with mailings; Bill leads tours and acts as an adviser, speaker and certified horticulture judge. In November, he was elected national president of the Gardeners of America/Men's Garden Clubs of America.

The Carneys are both cancer survivors who count their current good health as a blessing. Bill's duties with the national garden club mean that they travel often.

Like the Myerses, the Carneys say that tolerance and understanding is the key to a happy marriage.

"People are different," JoAnne said. "You have to understand each other, be tolerant and have a sense of humor."




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