Celeste E. Whittaker, Staff Writer
Courier-Post, A Gannett Compant
LINDENWOLD – They met at a roller skating rink in Scranton, Pennsylvania when they were in their teens and have been inseparable since that day.
The couple, one in a wheelchair due to a broken hip, both had tears in their eyes Saturday when they realized the community room at Linden Lake Senior Apartments in Lindenwold was filled for them.
“Surprise” rang out from the 80 or so people as Tom and Elizabeth “Betty” Miller entered the surprise party in honor of their 75th wedding anniversary.
The pair, who have one child, three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, have lived at the senior facility since 2008 after spending most of their lives in a residence in Lindenwold.
While they didn’t want to do anything big to celebrate their diamond anniversary, which is on Aug. 31, the residents at their apartment complex, along with their family members and friends, felt the occasion called for something more.
“I can’t imagine,” said Tom, 97, a World War II veteran sitting in the wheelchair due to a broken right hip. “I never expected anything like this, that’s for sure.”
Said 95-year-old Betty: “I was astonished and surprised.”
He said he loved her from the beginning.
“I just fell, hook, line and sinker,” he said. “She was really a girl that I had kept an eye out for a while and I was able to make time. And that was it.”
Asked what hooked her, his wife said, “his smile” and said the key to their marriage has been “happiness.”
“I had a nice smile and blue eyes,” Tom quipped.
The event was filled with family, friends and food. There was a huge card in the back of the room on an easel. It had a picture of the two on it and all the guests were asked to sign. It will be framed and given to them later.
“I think 75 years is an achievement, a milestone,” said Sharon Bosler, the property manager at Linden Lake, who helped organize the party. “I don’t know anyone who’s ever made 75 years. Tom and Betty are actually original residents here at Linden Lake. They moved in in 2008 when the building was built. They are a sweet couple. Tom is very generous and Betty’s so sweet.”
Lindenwold Mayor Richard E. Roach Jr. and Col. Al Bancroft of the Veterans Affairs of Camden County read a proclamations to the couple. Bancroft volunteered for years with Tom at a local food pantry and said Miller was honored by the military with a bronze star as well.
“It’s a great occasion,” Bancroft said. “I’m 76, so they’ve been married almost as long as I’ve been born.”
Nick Iannetta of Somerdale was on hand. He ushered with Tom at St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Lindenwold for years.
“He’s a great guy,” he said. “I love Tom and Betty. I’ve known them for many years. I’ve worked with him at St. Vincent DePaul (food pantry) for years. Seventy-five years, that’s great. They’re great people. I Iove them.”
Anne Nordberg came from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. She’s known the Millers for more than 40 years.
“I’ve been in their parish for 40 years,” she said. “I’ve never known anybody to have a 75th wedding anniversary. It was before the second World War. They’re a very sweet couple.”
Karole Cassese came for the celebration as well. She said the Millers lived on the same block as her in Lindenwold for many years.
“They’re a wonderful couple,” she says. “Very friendly, very hospitable. I’ve never seen them anything but cheerful.”
Tom Miller has been in a rehab facility since taking a fall and breaking his hip in July, and Betty has been staying with their daughter, but their spirits were high on Saturday.
Their daughter Barbara LaPenter was there, along with her children Tom King, Michelle Strain and Janna LaPenter.
Barbara LaPenter said she and her mom and dad originally lived in Camden before her dad had a house built in Lindenwold in 1951.
“They’ve been in that area ever since,” said LaPenter, who lives in North Jersey. “It’s like a miracle worker right? It’s pretty astonishing. Everything was very family centered. We used to go to Scranton a lot to see the grandparents for the holidays and so forth. They’re very tied to their church, very good Catholics.”
She recalled when their church, St. Lawrence, burned down many years ago how her parents were key contributors in helping the church rebuild.
“That was a real significant thing,” she said.
Strain, who also lives in North Jersey and was there with her three children, said the occasion was “beautiful, a really lovely party. So nice to have everyone come celebrate their love.”
King, who has two sets of twins, came in from Ohio for the celebration. He said his grandfather’s time in the military played a role in his career choice as well.
“I was in the Air Force as an active duty member for 10 years and was a reservist for 14 years,” King said. “He paved the way as an Army man. This is fantastic. It’s such a testament to a great marriage.”
As for his thoughts on making it 75 years, Tom had this to say: “It’s just a matter of knowing when to give in.”