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Happy holiday: Couple marks 75th anniversary on the Fourth of July

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 7/3/18

Gwendolyn Richards was in training to be a nurse when she married Walter Sener.

The year was 1943, and the United States was in the throes of World War II. Gwendolyn, who was from Royalton, met …

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Happy holiday: Couple marks 75th anniversary on the Fourth of July

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Gwendolyn Richards was in training to be a nurse when she married Walter Sener.

The year was 1943, and the United States was in the throes of World War II. Gwendolyn, who was from Royalton, met Middletown native Walter when they attended Middletown High School. The pair had been dating since they were seniors.

On the Fourth of July, the Seners are celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary. Sitting recently in their home in Hummelstown, which Walter built decades ago, the pair of 96-year-olds reflected on what it’s been like to be married for 75 years.

“Boring,” Walter said.

“We lasted for 75 years. It’s a miracle,” Gwendolyn added.

They both were kidding, as they did often during the interview in which they recalled their lives.

High school days

Gwendolyn and Walter were in the same study hall at Middletown High School. Was it love at first sight?

“No,” Gwendolyn said. “I didn’t like him. … I just wondered who he thought he was.”

It wasn’t until senior year that they started dating, although they don’t remember exactly how. They were in school plays together, and during one of the operettas, Walter sang “Come Marry Me” to Gwendolyn, although Gwendolyn didn’t think that that won her over. After basketball games, the dance band, in which Walter played the cornet, performed. Walter would drive Gwendolyn home afterward.

They graduated from high school in 1940. The year after, Gwendolyn worked at Hershey before starting training to become a nurse, and Walter worked at a grocery store in Royalton.

War and marriage

But then Walter had the chance to start working at Olmsted Air Force Base.

“World War II was hot, and they were recruiting anybody who was human,” Walter said.

When they got married in 1943, Walter was stationed in Miami with the Navy, where he was working on airplanes. Gwendolyn said he sent her a letter that said, “If you come down, I’ll try to get leave and come over to Jacksonville and see you, and then we can get married.”

“That was a horrible mistake,” Walter said.

Nurses were not supposed to be married while they were in training, but Gwendolyn still went down to Florida.

Because the Navy chapel was backed up for weeks, everyone was getting married at a justice of the peace’s home.

The courthouse was open late one day, but when they arrived they thought they were too late to get a marriage license — all of the stall windows were closed. Then one of the screens went up, and Walter and Gwendolyn heard, “Can I help you folks?”

The next day, they went to the justice’s house. Walter has an unusual memory from the ceremony. The justice was staring at himself in a mirror instead of looking at the couple.

After the ceremony, they took a train back to Miami. It was hot — the train was filled with troops and the windows couldn’t be opened.

“It was the hottest wedding night I ever had or anybody ever had,” Gwendolyn said.

They kept their marriage a secret for 14 months until Gwendolyn graduated from training. A few people knew. Walter’s parents figured it out when his allotment checks stopped coming home and started going instead to Gwendolyn’s aunt.

On the night of Gwendolyn’s graduation, she introduced him as her husband. All of the instructors were surprised.

“I said, ‘I thought everybody knew,’” Gwendolyn recalled.

Weekend warrior

While Gwendolyn worked for a time as a nurse, Walter ended up working for the Department of Defense for 37 years. In Middletown, Walter overhauled aircrafts, engines, instruments — all types of airplane materials.

Walter eventually came back to work at Olmsted, and part of his job was to help close the base in 1969, including moving civilians and military personnel. To keep “paying the rent” and keep his kids in school, Walter started working in Washington, D.C. He commuted from Hummelstown for 11 years.

He called himself a “weekend warrior” — he worked in Washington and drove home every weekend. Walter wasn’t the only person from the Middletown area who worked there, and he said they would carpool down together and take turns driving.

He was the liaison for Headquarters Naval Sea Systems Command — basically, the liaison for naval field activities — and after people learned that Walter was involved in closing Olmsted, he was selected to be part of committees that closed other bases.

Closing bases often made him enemies.

“You’re going to close a facility and [tell] 3,000 people, ‘You’re not coming to work next week.’ … It wasn’t a popular job,” he said.

When Walter would come home from Washington on Friday nights, he would play his horn in combo bands or parades, and Gwendolyn would sit in the corner of the clubs, crocheting.

After Walter retired in 1977, they bought a motorhome and traveled across the country. On their refrigerator, the Seners have a plaque for each state they visited. They enjoyed national parks, and Gwendolyn said she loved visiting the Oregon coast.

The pair had three kids who went to Lower Dauphin School District — Walter III, who lives in Palmyra; Alan, who lives in New York City; and Judith Lynn, who passed away in 2012 in California.

“His dimples”

Alan started coming back to Hummelstown two years ago after his mother broke her ankle.

“I think they negotiate the television clickers very well,” Alan said of his parents’ relationship.

A marriage is a lot of give and take, Gwendolyn said.

When asked what did they like about each other, Gwendolyn said, “I always told him, I married him for his money, his car and his dimples. So after we got married, he had a Navy salary, sold his car and the only thing he had left was his dimples.”

“If you find someone that you like immensely, do it. Don’t look back,” Walter said.