TREMONT — In a society where divorce is commonplace, an account of two sisters who have been married to their respective husbands for 70 years can only be described as inspiring.
For Louise Waddell, 89, of Tremont, and Della Thomas, 87, of Groveland, their 70-year journey began with a single misstep. In the summer of 1947, Louise and Della Antonini were working as carhops at Andy’s Diner in Pekin. One fateful night a carload of rather rowdy young men pulled into the diner’s parking lot and began flirting with the sisters.
“Della’s boyfriend was there,” Waddell recalled, “and she said, ‘Go tell those guys to quit hollering at me, because my boyfriend’s right out there.’ He was in his car waiting for her to get off work.”
Della relayed her sister’s message to the young men, one of whom was James “Ink” Thomas. He struck up a conversation with the courier. From there, they began dating. Thomas later introduced Louise to his longtime friend, Bill Waddell. On Aug. 14, Della married Ink at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Pekin. Less than a month later, Louise and Bill eloped and were married by a justice of the peace in Keokuk, Iowa.
“Our parents had just had a big wedding for Della, and we didn’t want to put them through the expense of another one so soon,” said Waddell. “But we wanted to get married. We went with two of Bill’s cousins who knew what we wanted to do and told us where we could go. They had the soap opera ‘Stella Dallas’ playing on the radio during the ceremony.”
The ensuing 70 years have seen their share of both celebration and tragedy for both couples. Highlights include vacations, spending winters in Florida and raising children. Grief came to the Waddells in 2005, however, when their granddaughter, Ashley, was killed in an automobile accident. In 2010, their son, Randy, died of a heart attack, and ovarian cancer claimed the life of the Thomases’ daughter, Kathy, in 2014.
There is no written manual to follow for a successful marriage. But when two couples have been married for a total of 140 years, it is safe to assume they have learned and applied many lessons on sustaining long-term relationships. Della Thomas credits faith, family and an amiable life partner for the longevity of her marriage. Ink Thomas maintains that a key to sustaining their marriage has been in their refusal to sustain animosity.
“I know when to say, ‘yes dear,’” he chuckled. “We don’t have arguments. There’s no need to argue. We have discussions. And I never go to bed without kissing her goodnight.”
Bill Waddell has not deeply pondered how he and Louise have maintained a happy marriage for seven decades.
“I don’t know what the main thing is that has kept us together so long,” he said. “I just wasn’t interested in anyone else after I met Louise.”
The sisters have remained close over the years, and their husbands have remained firm friends. The bond between them all has been passed down to their children as a sort of family heirloom.
“We’ve always done things together,” said Louise Waddell. “We never took separate vacations or anything like that. All four of us always vacationed together, and we always included extended family.”
The Thomas family celebrated their 70th anniversary Tuesday with an Italian dinner at home, prepared and delivered by their children. The Waddell family anticipates celebrating its milestone next month with a quiet dinner, either at home or at a restaurant. There will be a joint celebration in the form of an open house from 2 to 4 p.m. on Aug. 26 at Crossroads Treatment Center at 420 Walnut St., Pekin.