Little did Ruth Irma Elser and her fiancé Lane Ward Harold know when they announced their long-awaited wedding date – April 21, 1956 – that it would fall on the same date Margaret Truman and Clifton Daniel Jr. would also be reciting their marriage vows in Independence: Ruth at the RLDS Stone Church; Margaret at Trinity Episcopal Church.
“Actually, I picked the date first,” says Ruth, recalling the daughter of Harry and Bess Truman, announced her marriage later that week. As Ruth and Lane reminisced about the double weddings featured in the April 30, 1956, edition of Life magazine, Ruth confesses her disappointment that her wedding wasn't going to be “The Wedding” in Independence that Saturday and that Margaret's wedding was going to overshadow hers. “I thought , obviously, everyone will be (more) interested in Margaret's wedding.”
Rescheduling the wedding was a possibility, Lane says. “We might have changed (the date) had we known Margaret was going to get married that day. We probably would have picked a week sooner, or a week later, or something like that. … just because we anticipated there would be a lot more traffic than there actually was.”
Their 8 p.m. wedding went on as scheduled. And no one was more pleased than Ruth's mother, who was sensitive to heat and would have been very uncomfortable in the Stone Church during the hot summer months, Ruth recalls. “So finally,” we said, 'Well, Mom, we will move the date to April 21, and that way it won't be too hot.'”
Though the sanctuary of the historic Stone Church at South River Boulevard and West Lexington Avenue was comfortable to the 300 attendees, the area around the church organ heated up and the tension mounted as the service was about to begin, when the soloist arrived with only one piece of music that she and the organist were to share .
By placing the sheet music on the organ's music stand and looking over the organist's shoulder, the soloist thought they could both read off the same piece of music, Lane explains. However, there was a major problem: “When they arrived,” he says, “a massive bunch of greenery was on the side of the organ, and (the soloist ) would have had to stand about 10 feet away from the organ to read the music. Suddenly, they realized two sheets of music were needed.”
With no copying machine to use, and Lane's best man going bonkers over the dilemma, Lane knew something had to be done NOW. So taking a blank sheet of paper, he sprang into action and saved the day by drawing staffs, inserting notes and making a crude penciled-second copy for the soloist to use – just in the nick of time.
“When I finished it, I wondered how I could remain that cool,” says the behind-the-scene hero, recalling it took about five minutes to complete the extensive piece of music. “I didn't do a very good job,” he confesses, “ but it had to be done.”
With the national press focusing on the mid-afternoon wedding of Margaret and Clifton, imagine Ruth and Lane 's surprise when Life photographers stopped by the Stone Church to photograph the other wedding in Independence that day. “We didn't know they were coming ” Lane says, noting a photograph of the newlyweds kissing also appeared in the April 30 edition.
The Harolds, who celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary with their family on Thursday, April 21, recall their first encounter was at an 'hour dance” at Kansas University in the fall of 1953, where Lane was attending graduate school; Ruth was in nursing .
“It was just a random-chance thing,” Lance says of their relationship that eventually stretched across KU campuses in Kansas City and Lawrence, leading to Lane's proposal of marriage in the spring of 1954. “So we were engaged for over two years while waiting for Ruth to finish her five-year nursing program.”
What was it about Lane that Ruth liked most?
“He was overdressed for the campus hour dance. He was in a sports coat and looked very nice,” she recalls. “The others came wearing campus clothes, and I thought, 'My, he looks like he's quite the businessman.' After learning he was a chemical engineer and already employed, Ruth says she wanted to get better acquainted with him. And she did.
Five years older than Ruth, Lane says he came to the hour dance looking for a girl with more maturity than the younger girls he had been dating while employed at DuPont in Beaumont, Texas. And he found Ruth Elser to be that girl. Though only 19 at the time, Ruth, the daughter of German immigrants, was “sort of the official purchaser, chauffeur and negotiator for her family who spoke broken English,” Lane says. “She was more mature than lot of the girls. She had her head screwed on right, and I thought that was a good sign.”
When asked the secrets to a long, happy marriage, Ruth took out an anniversary card Lane had given her years ago with the following verse inscribed: “Whether we are home or out of town, fussing, discussing or clowning around. Or whether we are loafing or have lots to do, there is no one I want beside me than you. Love for more anniversaries, Lane.”
“And that proved to be true,” she says of the verse, adding: “ The real answer is what the card said. We have to be continually wanting to please the other person in the marriage, or to adjust to things that happen, and that it's an adjustment your entire life. But the end result is certainly worth it.”
Happy 60th Anniversary, Ruth and Lane. May God richly bless you and give you many more anniversaries to celebrate.
Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.